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The Last Picture Show was a very good movie but I can't quite make sense of this line, and it felt important. I can think of a few interpretations — the most basic being that everybody knows everybody else's business. But the truth is I didn't grow up in that era nor did I grow up in the middle of nowhere, and part of me feels like you need to have done one of those things or both to really understand that line.

What does it mean?

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The movie is about a small declining town with very few things to do left, where, as you mention it, everybody knows everybody else's business.

I'm originally what you could call a country boy, born and raise in small cities like the one in the movie, from 60's to 80's, before running away ASAP. And nothing is different, almost nothing changed (family members still lived in different places but in the same kind of towns for decades).

From the new car everybody knows about, to watching and noticing every difference in attitude or wealth one may have, or who is dating who, or cheating, people have time and often nothing more important to do than mind others' business.

It's how a microcosm works, personal paths are intertwined because people are geographically close and interact almost every day, it's very hard to hide or maintain some kind of privacy. Because small talk always comes down to what happens in this small area. This situation also leads to more jealousy, as people can be envious of what their neighbour achieved.

This does not happen the same way in bigger area/towns, because you're "diluted" into a much bigger crowd of persons, and you'll go unnoticed unless people have seen you before. Anonymity ensures privacy, if not completely, at least partially.

Your interpretation seems so accurate to me, and, to me, it's exactly what the character means: no real privacy in small towns like this one.

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  • People say of the Isle of Wight (an island off the south coast of England) that if you sneeze in Shanklin, someone pulls out a handkerchief in Ryde. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 11:34

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