M gets most of the information about his family member from the social media. M’s son and his girlfriend work in a city several hundred miles away from here. For some reasons, M and his wife had some unpleasant verbal exchange with their son a while ago. The next thing they knew, the relationship descended to the freezing point, waiting for something to come up to melt the ice, which haven’t happened so far. It’s a typical Asian immigrant family story, with the kids very much Americanized and the parents still in their old ways. “Sometimes I feel like I am a duck, talking with a chicken. You know we are different species.” M’s wife would complain about her futile discourse with her son. Her words are not biologically accurate, but I understand her sentiment.
Of course M and his wife cannot call up his son to apologize. The rigid protocol of family relationship prevents that–if parents apologize, that will be the end of civilization, at least according to M, who is adamant that his son should apologize to him. So far that hasn’t happened yet. So M can only find information about his son from the social media. Once in a while, M would bring up a question like, “he posts a picture like this and a comment like this.” He shows me the picture of his son and his girlfriend and the comment. I say something neutral, because I really don’t know which direction the wind is blowing. Does M like his future daughter-in-law? Does M want them to get married? How much money M is willing to contribute to their down payment? In order to avoid revealing my opinion before I’m sure M’s preferences on the above issues, I steer the conversation away by complimenting M’s son. “He is very handsome, isn’t he? I bet a lot of girls like him.” M starts to wear his happy grin. He never argues with a compliment no matter how cliche it is. Goodness, I hate myself. I waste my life on pleasantries, and squander my energy on oiling the social wheels, for which I have misgivings to say the least.
I can’t help thinking about M today when I read the story of Ai Fukuhara and her husband and her husband’s mom and her husband’s sister. It’s almost like a story of 100 years ago. When a woman marries a man, she marries the whole extended family. The difference is that this time all the players are on social media. How Ai could agree to living with her husband’s family is beyond my comprehension. How can Ai deal with the constant diplomacy of dealing with a mother-in-law and a sister-in-law? It turns out she cannot. Now Ai wants a divorce and this divorce case, before getting into the real court, is already argued extensively in the court of public opinion. Wait, no, it’s the court of social media, which is controlled by passionate fans and followers. Ai has millions and millions of fans and she of course has a big upper hand. In the court of social media, popularity rules. Her loyal fans basically commit a mass “social media hanging” of Chiang’s family members. I am actually a supporter of Ai since I know how difficult a time a women usually has when marrying into a man’s family. Still, social media can be a little harsh on Chiangs. Ai’s sister-in-law has to quit her job as an actress due to the relentless social media bashing.