[Viewpoint] Rain goes to the Army. So what?Korean pop star Rain entered an Army training camp in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi, this week to complete his two-year military service. Before he embarked on his belated service, the singer had a teary farewell ceremony in front of over a thousand fans from home and abroad. Trainees from the country’s 306 boot camps usually head to frontline bases. In a rare statement, the Ministry of National Defense said 29-year-old Jung Ji-hoon, Rain’s legal name, will not get any special privileges and will be stationed according to normal procedures.
The singer-actor has not yet applied for the ministry’s publicity support division, where most entertainers head. Applicants undergo rigid auditioning and are stationed according to their specialties and capabilities. The quota for the division is 20 and members now total 12, including actors Lee Jun-ki and Lee Dong-gun and singer Park Hyo-shin.
Singer Sung Si-kyung, who recently returned to show business after a two-year hiatus in the military service, found himself in hot water after a lawmaker exposed that he took 125 days of leave during his time in the military, much more than the usual 70 to 90 days for soldiers.
Sung, in a statement, explained that singers recruited for the PR division and Army band go on various tours and leave their base more often than normal servicemen. A soldier must take orders from above. Gigs and concert tours for servicemen usually fall on the weekends when soldiers rest from training. Generals usually apply for three-day leave for their soldiers for weekend tours. The ministry orders the leave after reviewing the application. If Sung took many leaves, it suggests that he toured and performed that many times. He should not be criticized for faithfully following orders and doing his duty as an Army entertainer.
Army entertainers probably are better off than the soldiers on the frontline. But their post is far from a picnic. They run on a tight schedule. Lee Jun-ki, for instance, went on a U.S. tour to Los Angeles and San Diego last month for American war veterans. Upon his return, he was recruited for a special performance on Armed Forces Day on Oct. 1. The following day, he had to accompany a military mission team to Indonesia to help pitch Korea’s jet fighter T-50 and submarine. The drama “Secret Garden” had recently aired in Indonesia, and Indonesian government officials had asked for a visit by the lead actor, Hyun Bin, who serves in the Marine Corps, as well as Lee Jun-ki.
Entertainment service in the military is also not all fun and games. Lee, during a rehearsal for a special military musical, was injured in the face. He nevertheless went on stage, covered in bandages, to keep his “promise to his comrades.” A military doctor and ambulance had to stand by in case. A photo of his bruised face soon circulated on the Internet, and his fans in China and Southeast Asia rallied to “rescue Lee Jun-ki.”
Singer-performer Psy is the most popular in the military. He rejoined the Army after his short service raised questions of favoritism. Even after completing two full years, he answers to any call from the Army for a performance. He uses money from his own pocket to treat the Army camp he performed for with fried chicken takeout.
All able-bodied men are required to serve in the military. Entertainers are no exception. Unlike in the past, when entertainers dodged the draft for fear of falling out of the public’s attention, stars now get a warmer reception and return to show business with more maturity. Stars joining and returning from military service have now become common. There is no need for the hoopla. Military officials have become sensitive about extraordinary interest in celebrity servicemen. Teenage fans rallied against DBSK’s drafting, saying they feared for the lives of their beloved stars if they were fed American beef.
Celebrities eagerly commit themselves to their military service because their actions can seriously impact their public image. Our society is overreacting and immature, with regions campaigning to post Hyun Bin at bases in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, or Baengnyeong Island. Lawmakers should have more important matters to pore over than aiming to land celebrity soldiers.
Where Hyun Bin is posted is up to the Marines’ leadership. He is just one of thousands of serviceman faithfully fulfilling his national duty with his talent and physical capabilities. We should wish Rain luck, let him and all other entertainers be, and warmly greet them back when they safely finish their service. That is what a mature society - including fans of celebrities - should do.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Chul-ho