When an apology just isn’t enoughWhen Yoo Seung-jun debuted in 1997, hip-hop music and pop idols had just begun to gain popularity in Korea, and Koreans overseas familiar with English and hip-hop debuted one after the other.
When Yoo first came in to the spotlight, he was described as a “beautiful young man.”
But growing up in a violent area of Los Angeles, he had a turbulent childhood and later became a devout Christian. He appealed to his Korean fans at his height in the late 1990s and early 2000s, promising that he would fulfill his military duty.
Of course, here ended his “beautiful” story. Three months before joining the military, he left the country for a performance in Japan and went to the United States to obtain U.S. citizenship. Then, the Ministry of Justice permanently banned his re-entry. In light of public sentiment, Yoo was banned from setting foot on Korean soil upon the request of the Military Manpower Administration.
Thirteen years have passed since then and Korea is still skeptical. On May 19, Yoo appeared on Afreeca TV, pleading: “I would like to fulfill my military duty now if I can. Please forgive me.”
But the public reaction was cold and many of his former fans were doubtful of his pledges: Even if he was allowed to reenter, he has just passed the age limit for military service.
Many also claimed his live appearance was just to make excuses rather than any substantial effort toward restoring his Korean citizenship or joining the military. An online JoongAng Ilbo survey showed an overwhelming 82 percent of respondents answering that he should be banned from entering Korea.
Yoo’s “apology performance” and public response have affirmed that he is still considered and branded as an outcast. Dodging his military duty, lying and giving up his nationality were his three big mistakes. The public is also especially resolute about Yoo’s case because he made so many excuses. Moreover, evasion of military service is not simply about avoiding one’s responsibility for national defense but about social justice and the privilege to evade a hardship everyone must bear.
The public sentiment toward Yoo is understandable. But it is ironic that the entertainer - who, as a celebrity, should be more sensitive to public opinion - ruined his career over immediate interests.
Each year, 3,000 people give up their Korean citizenship to avoid serving in the military. In 2013, among the children of 15 high-ranking officials in the current Park Geun-hye administration - which includes Blue House secretaries - 16 gave up their Korean citizenship and were therefore exempted from service.
Shouldn’t the same strict standard apply to them as well? We may well be neglecting an even more serious issue as we harshly criticize celebrities for the same offense.
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 23, Page 31
by YANG SUNG-HEE