[FORUM]A little more generosity, please

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[FORUM]A little more generosity, please

The hip-hop entertainer Yoo Seung-joon, who has been called a "dancing machine" and is loved by his adoring crowd of fans, has traded in his Korean passport for an American one.

Mr. Yoo's decision shocked many Koreans because he changed his allegiance after he was classified last year by the Defense Ministry as a "public service agent." Those persons serve for 28 months as a support staff member at a local government office in lieu of active military service. He had been scheduled to start his service beginning in April.

Youngsters were enraged at Mr. Yoo's behavior, and the older generation was angry and concerned that the star's "treachery" would give a bad influence to the teenagers who regard him as their idol. They are criticizing Mr. Yoo on two points. First, he broke his promise to serve in the Korean military and second, he made use of his mother country as a place for moneymaking.

Korea's military draft law says that Korean men with permanent resident status in foreign countries who work for profit in Korea at least two months in a year should undergo a physical examination for conscription. But if a male Korean permanent resident in another country becomes a naturalized citizen elsewhere, he automatically loses his Korean citizenship and is exempt from military service in Korea after he notifies a Korean consulate or the Korean Ministry of Justice.

Mr. Yoo, born in 1976, moved to the United States with his parents in late 1989. He returned to Korea eight years later, alone, to work as a singer, and has shuttled between Korea and the United States since then.

Mr. Yoo said last August, "I will follow the nation's judgment" as regards military service, adding that he would do his best to carry out the duties of a Korean. He has broken that promise.

Last year, he signed a two-year exclusive recording contract with YBM Seoul Records for two albums and was paid 3.7 billion won ($2.8 million). Industry gossip has it that less-illustrious singers are paid 200 million to 300 million won for such exclusive contracts, which are based on projected sales of their albums. In addition, Mr. Yoo earned 2.2 billion won as a commercial model in 2000. His parent country has made him a young millionaire.

So Koreans' love for Mr. Yoo has quickly turned to hate. They have some reason for that about-face, considering that every year about 100 Korean men come back home despite their permanent residence in a foreign country, to offer themselves up to the military draft.

Let's give a second thought on this issue. Did the public love Mr. Yoo because he is a Korean who would fulfill his military duty at some point? Did he have the image of an altruistic young entertainer through advertising? Is it possible to create such a good image through good publicity techniques only? We have seen him working hard on stage and in broadcast programs for five years. Was that only a facade?

As for moneymaking, there are not a few famous foreign entertainers who earn a great deal of their income in one or two live concerts or by appearing in a commercial. Somebody may say that, unlike such foreign entertainers, Mr. Yoo has to show his gratitude toward his motherland that made him a pop star. These people say that Mr. Yoo would not have succeeded in becoming a youth idol anywhere else, including the United States where his family lives. Then what should we demand from foreign entertainers such as the Japanese members of the rock group Y2K, who made their debut in Korea? We might be confusing the issue of ethnicity with the issue of citizenship, since we live in a homogeneous society.

We are now familiar with foreign athletes who earn billions of won by performing with Korean professional sports teams. Even so, we may be too quick to conclude that a person who is an ethnic Korean has to be a Korean citizen. We should change such ideas. The mother country should be only the last resort for those who are citizens of foreign countries - a backstop in case they find they cannot make their way elsewhere. Accordingly, I hope that our society will quickly escape from the "Yoo Seung-joon" shock and be more generous. Instead of flying into a rage, we should respect his choice and hope he will leap onto the global stage, using his success in his mother country as a springboard. Is it impossible for us to have such an attitude?


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Hong Eun-hee

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