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Two Businesses

Everybody has two business: their business and show business.

Millions subscribe to People. Millions more flip through it while waiting in line at the grocery store. Then here’s Entertainment Weekly, Entertainment Tonight, and websites like TMZ and Perez Hilton, who update in intervals smaller than science is able to measure.

As someone who works in entertainment, it is a bit odd to know that everyone is curious about my business. My mom knows what the number one movie was this weekend; I have no idea what the best selling computer was.

This might be where all the egotism in Hollywood comes from. We have, after all, only one business, and everyone seems to be paying attention to it.

This is all a little silly, but there is a more pernicious effect. Due to what’s called “Dunbar’s number” (or the “monkeysphere,” if you’re into cheap jokes, like me), there is a limit to the number of people any individual can actually care about. This number is about 150.

What do I mean by “care about”? Imagine how you’d feel if your mother died. Now imagine if your best friend’s mother died. Now imagine a mother in Burundi died. They’re all tragic, but you feel it more strongly when the person is closer to you.

That’s Dunbar’s number.

Here’s the thing. The more you know about someone, the more you identify with them. As David Wong explains:

Think of Osama Bin Laden. Did you just picture a camouflaged man hiding in a cave, drawing up suicide missions? Or are you thinking of a man who gets hungry and has a favorite food and who had a childhood crush on a girl and who has athlete’s foot and chronic headaches and wakes up in the morning with a boner and loves volleyball?

Something in you, just now, probably was offended by that. You think there’s an effort to build sympathy for the murderous fuck. Isn’t it strange how simply knowing random human facts about him immediately tugs at your sympathy strings?

Do you know the names of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s kids? Do you know the names of your cousin’s kids? Or even your sister’s?

Think about how depressed some people got when Heath Ledger died. How many people got depressed over the other 19,249 drug related deaths this year? The fact that it affected people shows that the brain can’t distinguish between a real relationship and a synthetic, televised, intertubed relationship.

A friend in the office just told me that Ashley Simpson is pregnant. I’m pretty sure I just forgot the name of my best friend in 2nd grade.

By the way, who the fuck is Ashley Simpson?

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