Editorial: Celebrity Military Scandals in Korea

Some natural beauty before the the ugliness of the rant
Some natural beauty before the the ugliness of the rant

Okay, so this article will probably annoy a few people and while that’s not my intention, I just can’t keep quiet this time. I didn’t write a response to the last celebrity-in-the-military scandal and I should have. So I have to say something now because it’s just bursting out. I need to put my two cents in.

You might have noticed that I – or anyone on ATK Magazine – rarely talk about celebrity gossip. There are two reasons for that. First, if gossip is your thing, there are lots of places where you can get your fix. But more importantly, it’s just not my thing and since I’m the editor-in-chief, I get to decide what we publish and what we don’t.

That being said, I am going to touch on the recent Se7en & Sangchu scandal today. But not to attack them (seriously, why do people do that?) but rather because there are a couple of things I feel compelled to add to the online conversation about Korean celebrities acting badly while in the military. So this post really has less to do with Se7en & Sangshu, than the situation itself.


First, I want to make a disclaimer. I have no idea what happened (and neither do you) so there will be no censure or blame thrown around in this editorial. Remember, it was simply reported on and an investigation has started but we don’t know the whole story. Sure, it’s distasteful but I refuse to jump on the bandwagon of hate simply because of a story. Yes, if it can be proven that they did something wrong, they should be punished. But it hasn’t yet. And this article is about the bigger picture which seems to be lost – at least on the more gossipy websites.

Can it be proven?

This is my first point. When I the scandal first broke online, at least in the English language K-pop websites, it seemed like everyone immediately believed they were guilty. I come from a country (Canada) that believes in innocent until proven guilty and I think this is all the more important when the accusation is by a media outlet. Wait until we know the whole story before judging them please. Because reading about something on Allkpop doesn’t make it true. Okay, I know it’s on other places but it is still under investigation.

How were they able to go?

This is my second point and the most important in my mind. People keep throwing out angry comments about how they are abusing their celebrity status in the military but almost no one is blaming the military for allowing them that freedom. They weren’t AWOL unless I misunderstood. Celebrity soldiers appear to be allowed extra privileges.

While there were a few comments about treating them as regular soldiers, it really needs to be noted that the fact celebrities are treated differently isn’t the celebrities’ fault. You can’t allow them different freedoms and then get mad when they use them. Either there needs to be one set of rules for all or people need to get off their high horse and stop expecting celebrities to be like everyone else. They’re not. If I make a mistake, very few people know. If someone famous makes a mistake, the gossip sites – and often regular media – let everyone know. Their personal life isn’t personal and yes, they get treated differently. In just about every situation – good and bad.

If they went there without permission, that’s a different story but then I’d like to ask, “How were they able to get there?” I’m no military expert but someone had to give them permission to leave the base. I remember thinking this with the previous celebrity military scandal – I believe that one was about the number of days Rain spent on leave. Someone higher up in the command structure had to approve it. Why are the celebrities being blamed for using the privileges granted to them?

Why do we hold celebrities to such high standards?

This is my third point. While it happens all over the world, it seems particularly virulent in Korea. In one hand, fans talk about how celebrities serving in the military should be treated just like “regular” soldiers and on the other hand, they are held up to impossible standards. Not only is it contradictory but it’s also ridiculous. They’re famous, not perfect.

Do I condone going to a “happy ending” massage parlour (if they did go)? No, but neither will I condemn them for it if it’s a legal business. I don’t think it’s a good thing for a variety of reasons (umm, it’s kind of gross) nor a particularly smart thing to do knowing your every move is followed by crazy paparazzi but I’m one of those weird fans/writers that really doesn’t care what a celebrity does in their personal life (as long as it’s not illegal). I like their music or their acting or whatever; not their image – squeaky clean or not. I just want them to keep doing quality work.

Side note: And along those lines is the crazy expectation that some fans have about Korean celebrities that they can’t date. Umm, who cares? The chances of me ever meeting, let along dating, my favourite celebrity – even as a writer – are super slim so why should I care if he dates or marries. I love Kwon Sang Woo as an actor and yeah, for about all of one second, I was sad when he got married but it certainly didn’t stop me from watching his films or dramas.

Netizens’ and Fans’ Comments

This is my final point. I tend to stay away from controversy, even with my editorials, because I was taught that if I couldn’t say anything nice than I shouldn’t say anything at all. Of course, since I’m certainly not perfect I don’t always adhere to this maxim but I do try – and most of the time, succeed – to do so.

But seriously, comments like ‘I just wasted 10 years of my life being your fan’ drive me crazy. Really, a celebrity has one stupid night – that unless I’m mistaken, hasn’t been proven yet because the investigation is still ongoing (see point #1) – and it’s going to make you stop being a fan? Wow, talk about fickle! It kills me when I was reading comments like that on the online “stories” about the scandal.

Yes, this point is tied into the previous one but seriously, if you read some of the comments you would think they killed someone.

And that brings me to the end of my rant… I mean, editorial. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter! What do you think about the situation? What are your opinions on the expectations of perfect behaviour that is put on Korean celebrities? Do you think they should be treated the same?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

19 thoughts on “Editorial: Celebrity Military Scandals in Korea

  • June 28, 2013 at 10:23 am

    This whole celebrity scandals situation, in or out of military, has certainly made me question people’s sanity.

    There are some scandals which are out right bad but mist people jump the wagon before even confirming that it is true. Why care what one is doing beyond their acting or singing? With this scandal, they are now attacking Park Han Byul. The same witch hunt happened during T-ara’s case and Rain’s. It’s always the celebrity’s fault and not the institution’s apparently.

    Perhaps, us Canadians just have a different mind set then the others. Or perhaps not.

  • June 28, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I’m glad you brought this up for discussion. This week has weighed on my mind, and I haven’t participated in the comments, much, elsewhere…except for one kneejerk response to all the shock and holier-than-thou comments. I said – “I can vouch for Sangchu’s innocence….lol….Bad Boy…” I really just wanted to say, lighten up!

    From the serious Park Shi Hoo’s scandal to the minor one this week, Infinite’s Sung-kyu supposedly calling women over 30, witches, or some such thing…..I keep thinking that reactions are over the top.

    But, I have to remember that my culture may make my responses different, our American troops are constantly on curfew in the ROK and misbehavior in the military everywhere, is rampant….And our own idols are involved in brawls, and sundry misbehaviors…..

    I jokingly dedicated Miguel’s “How Many Drinks” to Shi Hoo…..a typical American hit that lauds getting a girl to bed on the first night. Bar an actual crime….I wasn’t willing to condemn him for having sex….

    Most of the fans calling for their heads are very young and from cultures unlike mine….and if they see life in a less jaded fashion….and expect more out of their idols, I understand.

    • June 28, 2013 at 11:43 am

      I’m glad you brought up a couple of the non-military celebrity scandals. And the fact that many of those making the comments are young (and from a different culture). But I still think the remarks are extreme and the expectations are unreasonable.

      However, you do bring up some great points!

    • June 28, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      I don’t think its fair to say that the reaction to sunggyu’s comments was over the top. This is a country that has a different language and words are not so easily translatable, and under the context of the society they live in they did something wrong. He screwed up big time, as there is something very misogynistic in viewing only young woman as “viable”, and if Korean’s say its an extremely bad thing to say then its an extremely bad thing to say. It’s great that he apologized, and all he can do it wait it out now.

      There are also many netizens who are excusing his behaviour saying “oppa didn’t mean it” which are coming a lot from the international fans as it’s not their culture and language so its hard for them to understand why its bad that he used this word, but they go around saying k-netizens over-reacting when they have every right to react the way they do.

      • June 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm

        Fans in general, whether Korean or international often overreact to comments or mistakes. Hallyu stars – actually all famous people – are just people who mistakes like the rest of us, except their mistakes are plastered all over gossip and news sites. Should he have apologized for the comment. Yes and he did. Should he be vilified forever, no.

        Why do we expect them to be perfect all the time?

      • June 28, 2013 at 4:17 pm

        Yes I do agree that they are people and make mistakes like the rest of us. It depends on the mistake to see if they are over-reacting or not. In terms of the Park Shi Hoon case I think they were over-reacting since they attacked before anything was proven. The sunggyu case i think the reactions were fine. Personally I don’t think this has to do with anything about him being perfect. He said something wrong and he was called out on it. I’m sure a lot of woman were hurt and they have every right to be pissed, and they should over react like that whenever something similar happens, either in their daily life with non-celebs or when a celeb says something like that. Language like that hurts, and for him this is the best way to learn that lesson since he will never feel what they feel as a cis straight male in his society and benefits from that privilege. Will he be vilified? yes, I’m not denying that, but will he be vilified for long? I doubt it and he’ll be back with his activities quite soon since this is nothing like the illegal scandals and nowhere close to those situations.

        I would say that it’s hard to come to a conclusion as to why we want idols to be so perfect since I’m sure its taken decades to come to this ideal for idols. It’ll take time for it to gradually get better, like when relationships were introduced, they got significantly better throughout the years in terms of fan responses, still not great, but i’m sure it will get better. But as of now, I think it’s more so people want to see celebrities crash and burn that they still hold this standard of perfection for them. It’s easier to fall when you’re supposed to be perfect when no human actually is.

        All in all I think I Korean person would be better suited to come to a conclusion as to why idols are held to such perfection as they know the culture and grew up with the concept of these idols. And perhaps they have already…at least there might be some discourse out there on this ideal that idols must be perfect, we just aren’t able to read it >.>.

  • June 28, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Prostitution in Korea is illegal, hence why the reactions are probably so “extreme”.

    If the investigation turns out to find these two are guilty, then so be it. I do believe the netizens could have waited until more information came about or until the investigation was finished (this is a case that happens all too often aka. Park shi hoo), but there’s not much you can do about that, just like there are netizens who are excusing their behaviour so nonchalantly, the extreme can go both ways.

    I would personally say that the special treatment is both the fault of the Military and on some part the celebrities, but this illegal behaviour (which we will see if it is true or not through the investigation) is on the fault of seven and sangshu. They are adults and no one forced them to go to this message parlour, they took advantage of the situation they were in and made a stupid decision, that’s all there is to it. From the supposed news sources, the ministry of defence is also investigating the national defence media agency due to their poor handling of celebrity recruits.

    Let us not forget that seven also has a girlfriend, so if this turns out to be true that is another point against him.

    • June 28, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      Yes, prostitution is illegal and I’m certainly not condoning their behaviour but it is still unproven. I would rather people not jump on either bandwagon (they’re evil or totally excusing the behaviour) without proof but I do believe strongly in innocent until proven otherwise.

      If it turns out to be true, was it a dumb-ass thing to do and should they be punished; yeah. But I already said that. And as for Se7en having a girlfriend, I firmly believe his alleged transgression is between them.

      • June 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm

        Oh yes, I definitely agree with you that I would rather not have anyone jump on either bandwagon, but I have come to learn that many people lack any common sense, and there’s only a few who can think about it rationally.

        I only brought up prostitution being illegal since with the way you wrote it, it seemed like you were unsure of the legality of the message parlours/happy endings. You were quite clear on them being punished if it does turn out to be true.

        My response was more so to saying how they were able to get there. Yes the National Defence Media Agency is doing a terrible job managing these recruits, and its a good thing this came about since they are being investigated as well, but even if they were allowed out there was no reason they had to break the rules of drinking and doing something illegal like prostitution. From what I understood they were staying at a motel after an event so they were never on the base and the PD was just doing a really bad job at managing them and their curfew. Rain was also part of the group of 4 who were spotted going out after curfew, it’s just Rain and the other dude never went into the message parlour, this also added more controversy for the NDMA especially after saying that they were going to handle things better after the first incident with Rain.

        I do personally believe the point about his girlfriend is important information to have especially for people who dare care about celebrities personal lives. Cause unless they do have an open relationship, then it will just be an indicator to the kind of character that he is. If they stay together or not is all up to them, I could give a rats ass about that.

        These points were just more so an addition to your points, since I don’t disagree with you at all. People be mother-effing crazy and jump to conclusions without facts just like sumaiya said with the T-ara scandal (that was in large part due to the incompetence of the company but that’s a whole other story).

        On a side note, personally I don’t think there is anything even wrong with prostitution as long as it is the person’s choice and they are not forced to do anything they don’t want to do, but alas since it’s illegal there’s not much to do about when caught. (now to see if they actually did or not is up until the investigation is complete)

  • June 29, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    Blown out of proportion! they;re damned if they do or/and damned if they don’t.

  • June 29, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    “If they went there without permission, that’s a different story but then I’d like to ask, “How were they able to get there?” I’m no military expert but someone had to give them permission to leave the base” not sure if you were particular about the recent case of Se7en & Sangchu. They were out at after a military PR event. If the report is correct, they left their hotel (not the base). Whether they must ask someone for permission to leave the hotel in that wee hours is unknown.

    I hate to hold celebrities up on a high standard but there’re rules the celebrities much abide to like every one else. Despite the netizens hating on celebrity enlistments, If they’re using their privilege without breaking any rules then it’s not their fault but the systems. I just hope this will turn out for better or else this recent case will just add more fuel to the general public’s resentment over celebrities’ enlistments.

    • July 2, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      Oh, I agree with you… they should obey the rules but I would like for netizens and the media to wait until they have the facts (or at least as many as we can know) before condemning them. Perhaps the system is due for an overhaul? I don’t know. I just wish we didn’t hold them up to impossible standards and blame them for everything.

  • June 30, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    My comment comes in the form of my own piece I’ve been writing since this thing broke out. All I can say is I am glad more people see the absurdity in how we treat celebrities, the kind of things we expect and deem punishable and how disturbed that is.

      • July 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm

        Thank you. It’s a bit more rage-fueled and personal than yours, but my style is usually brutal like that. 🙂

  • August 31, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Just saw this post and I am front the USA and am ultra conservative. So……I am even surprised at the ranting and raving going on about this event. But putting that aside I wanted to say that I have been a kPop fan for almost two years now and am appalled at the concept that idols, actors or celebrities in Korean have to be so much at the mercy of their “netizens”. I agreed with the editoral. Really “netizens” these celebs are people and it seems that just because they entertain, that their life does not belong to them. Being scared and hiding most everything seems to be their life, why, because the fans are going to be upset. Absurd.

    • September 3, 2013 at 6:20 pm

      Yeah, we follow our stars lives here in North America of course. But I don’t think we put quite as much pressure on them to be perfect. It’s unreasonable and not possible.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: