MC Mong's case is bigger than his celebrity. It is a representation of how little people understand South Korea's political and social condition. This is not about the entertainment industry losing a great rapper. This is about a country being taken for granted by the people who are living in it.
I was an avid 1N2D season 1 fan. I loved and still love each of the cast members. Unlike in other variety shows where I tend to develop a favorite or several favorites, 1N2D was one show where I just liked them all. That is why I took it hard when MC Mong’s military scandal broke out because I knew there was no way he will be allowed to continue on 1N2D and I personally felt betrayed with what he did.
Before we go further into the discussion on MC Mong, it is important to note that this is not the first case where a celebrity tried to avoid military service nor will it be the last. Aside from "avoiding military service", there are also other celebrities who have been caught not following rules or violating certain codes of conduct while serving their military duties:
- Se7en and Sangchu were caught entering a massage parlor known for sexual favors, beating up a photographer and leaving their post without permission
- Kim Jong Kook opted to go for “public” service instead of an “active” one despite being known for his strength
- Yoo Seung –Jun, a star in the early 2000s, changed his nationality just before he was drafted
Any time such scandal breaks, you can expect a public outcry. Many non-Korean Kpop followers also get involved in the debate. As expected, they are always in the side of their favorite celebrity.
Many fans are still calling for MC Mong to make a comeback. Now, fans of se7en and Rain feel that the mistakes committed by their idols are minor offenses and do not warrant anything more than several weeks of reflection.
There are also those who feel MC Mong should forget about the entertainment industry and that Se7en, Rain and the others should also suffer graver punishment if not banishment.
Which side is right?
For us to answer that question, it is important to understand why South Korea requires each male citizen to give up 2 years of their life for the military.
Mandatory Military Service Basics
South Korea's Independence
With the glitz and glamor of South Korea’s entertainment industry, it is easy to forget that the Korean war happened just over 60 years ago, in 1950 to be exact. There are still people who experienced the war that are still alive. Social liberalization is even younger. South Korea went through a long phase of transition before it allowed foreign cultural and social influence to come in.
It was only the children of the 80s that actually experienced freedom of expression as they know it today. By any measure, the liberalization they are experiencing right now is young. Their entertainment industry is even younger.
More importantly, there is a huge gap between the senior generation and young generation in terms of culture. The younger generation is very much exposed to the western culture while the older generation, the ones who rule the country, are still very much in touch to South Korea’s chaotic history and the trauma it brings.
This leads us to the next point.
MC Mong in 1N2D
Why the mandatory military service?
In 1948, the Republic of Korea was established by the South and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea by the North. When Russia left the North, the North insisted that South Korea expel the U.S. The South refused and the relationship between the two became more tensed.
June 25, 1950, North Korean forces advanced to South Korea. This began the now Korean War (a.k.a. Forgotten War). Civilians were being hurt and South Korea was at a big disadvantage. It was clear that the North will succeed in their plan to invade the South and unify the whole country until the United Nations stepped in. By 1953, an armistice was put forward which effectively upheld the division of the North and the South. However, this armistice was never signed by the South. More importantly, an armistice is but an agreement between two parties at war to stop firing and fighting BUT it doesn’t mean the war is over.
This means South Korea is still at war.
At any given time, the North can invade the South. With the continuous thread of Nuclear power being honed and lots of threats being thrown around, the danger is ever present.
But what does it really mean?
It means that the freedom that every South Korean experience today is threatened. They are not totally free. South Korea is still at war and that’s what many people don’t get.
Imagine sleeping every night knowing that armed men can come to your house and take over it. Imagine waking up and seeing all those idols, Hallyu stars and Korean celebrities punished for coloring their hair and wearing colorful clothes. Imagine waking up one day with your airwaves and television stations filled with patriotic music you don’t even believe in.
That’s why every male Korean are required to serve the army. If one day, they all wake up and North Koreans are all over place, they’ll know how to fight and defend the freedom that allowed them to sing and dance to the music of their choice.
It is not some ancient belief that is designed to irritate the holy hell out of young people. It is necessary, a part of their obligation to the country they were born into.
That’s Why Koreans Take it Seriously
That’s why Koreans take it to heart. Celebrities are afforded privileges that are not extended to other people with more noble professions. The least people are asking for is for these celebrities to take their duty for their country seriously. It’s two years of their lives, not half of it.
Are the standards too stiff?
Shouldn’t it be? South Korea is still at war. Defending your country is a sacred vow, it’s a sacred duty, a sacred necessity.
Even American soldiers, when they are deployed, are on duty 24 hours a day. They are always on call and are always required to wear their uniform. They don’t have the privilege of calling home anytime. They are given several minutes a week to call home. Not too far from what South Korean military men are required to do.
Can’t they be forgiven?
Forgiveness is easy to give. The real question is whether or not they should be given another chance at their career.
Not that no one has been given another chance. Kim Jong Kook, who later admitted he made the wrong decision, was able to resume his career because he never really deferred his duty, he just chose the division with less work. Rain seems to be getting less flak for not wearing a complete uniform and leaving his post because he did serve the military. He just made silly mistakes in the process.
However, MC Mong evaded his military duties completely. Yes, it can be argued that he didn’t do it to get out of his service. After all, the supreme court only found him guilty for getting in the way of the process of being drafted but they didn’t prove the malice of his actions. Malice is always the most difficult to prove.
Yoo Seung –Jun, on the other hand, got his citizenship just before he was drafted. It was viewed as a conscious move to get out of his military duty. He later expressed his willingness to still complete his military duty but it was too little too late, he was already banned.
The problem is if you give one a chance, shouldn’t you give everyone else another chance? That opens a can of worms. Then Korean celebrities can get out of their duty, apologize, reflect and then resume their glamorous lifestyle.
If there is any celebrity that I would want to be exempted from the “punishment”, it would be MC Mong but it doesn’t mean I want him to be exempted. As painful as it is from a fan, no one should be above the interest of the country.
And I write that with a really really heavy heart.
daebak-inc on June 25, 2018:
For those who are saying that maybe South Korea should think about becoming a volunteer military instead of forced military, I think you have to understand than unlike america, South Korea is a quite smaller country than America and more disadvantageous in warlike situations. Which means they have less options, and less people, when it comes to defending their country. Now, regardless of whether or not you think South Korea should change this or not, as it stands this is how the country runs. So accepting that for now, it's a matter of whether or not people should be punished for avoiding their military responsibility or for other misconduct like not serving properly. Personally, though I live in America, I can see why military service is important to South Koreans and why many would feel wronged when something like this happens. For example it might feel like they're being looked down upon if people in the spotlight don't take responsibilities as seriously as they them as ordinary people do. I believe as it stands now that people, even celebrities, should consider that a lot more seriously in those situations. That being said, I don't feel as if punishing someone by not letting them continue their career is a fair punishment. They shouldn't be punished for the rest of their lives for this. And you might say well maybe they can find a new career, but if you personally consider those words, how many of you could easily change your careers? Just because they are celebrities, doesn't mean it would be an easy feat for them. So considering celebrities like you would the average citizen, and straining how important their military service is, you should also consider them like an average citizen when it comes to how difficult it is to suddenly change careers halfway through your life. When it comes to not performing military duties properly, I think some effective punishments would be to extend their service. Maybe then they will have more time to consider their actions and the feelings of the people. That's just an example, of course punishment would be more difficult for those who evade service all together, but I still stand by the opinion that it shouldn't involve whether or not they be allowed to permanently pursue their active careers. But that is personally my opinion.
Jalga on April 12, 2018:
But kim jong kook has a reason for doing that, He has a herniated disc so despite looking healthy he still has pain and risk
Ammy on November 02, 2016:
I'm from a country which has the largest standing voluntary military in the world and I was once an aspirant myself. So, I guess I've the right to comment on this topic. S.Korea could have demolished its mandatory service if there were enough people opting for it voluntarily but I guess that isn't the situation in S.Korea. I guess he has to serve in jail if he broke the rule, was he exempted because he's a celebrity, I don't think a common man of S.Korea can have such privilege!! Its just so unfair for all the common people of S.Korea and especially the men who served and are serving even though they hate doing it just like him. I'm not from S.Korea and so I don't have the right to say anything in whether he should be punished or given a 2nd chance.
arina on September 27, 2016:
you have to have the mindset of koreans to be able to understand this..but personally i love mc mong variety skills but i dont think he'll be able to ever freely laugh or make ppl laugh after what he has gone thru...
BW on September 17, 2015:
Also no offense to the author but comparing the American military to South Korea isn't a fair comparison. The American military is a volunteer military where Americans decide to adhere to military rules where the South Koreans are conscripts who don't have a choice or at least the choice is go in the military or go to jail.
BW on September 17, 2015:
Here's what I don't get with this argument. North Korea "could" invade and take away your freedoms so the South Korean government has the right to take two years of your life away and basically owns you.
Maybe South Korea should take the American approach where you have a professional army made up of volunteers yet civilians have the right to bear arms where an invading army would have to deal with armed civilians.
Anonymous on August 01, 2015:
Now that I read this article, I fully understand why Mc Mong got so much hate from his Korean fans. What I'm most curious about is why Mc Mong chose to not serve military. Was it because he is afraid of losing fame right after he comes back? I am a huge fan of Mc Mong because of his songs and 2d 1n, but it really does question me. But honestly, this whole situation of him not going, I don't really care. I'm just a bit upset that he didn't handle the problem like a man.
Sherafina Maya from Jakarta, Indonesia on December 01, 2014:
Hi. Even though this article is mainly about MC Mong, I just want to clear out a few things about the statements you made about Kim Jong Kook. Should I quote a few things you wrote?
"Kim Jong Kook opted to go for “public” service instead of an “active” one despite being known for his strength."
"Kim Jong Kook, who later admitted he made the wrong decision, was able to resume his career because he never really deferred his duty, he just chose the division with less work."
I believe that these statements you made are not true. Jong Kook was and still is very well known for his strength, but what you may or may not know is he has health problems as well. He hurt his back in his Turbo days, i think around 1998. He had surgery for it. You might want to look for it in Youtube. Many people complained when he got a desk job instead of an "active one", but they did a health test on him before he got drafted, and it proved that he had a bad back.
So, it wasn't that he "chose" a desk job because he wanted to, it was because he has health problems.
Lucy on October 05, 2014:
I really can understand why is military service important (especially in SK), however I think its too unfair that citizens do not have a choice, whether they want to participate or not, as it is in many other countries. I think korean people are proud to serve in military to point they bash celebrity/others who try to avoid their duty, so why is government afraid that there will not be a volunteer to enter to military? Or they have reason to be afraid? The fact remains that young boys are forced to accomplish military and no one deserve to be hated to their desire for freedom! I find all issue about shameful men/celebrities who tried to avoid military too much unsensitive and public behaviour (to ban celebrity from variety shows, etc...) too overreacting. Oh, and I am fan no one of said men, neither I am korean citizens, so I wrote my opinions from view of unrelated party.
shiela on July 22, 2014:
iam not a korean nationality but i like mong please accept him again
May on April 10, 2014:
I also love mc mong..
Fairlane Raymundo (author) from Los Angeles, CA on July 29, 2013:
@Tali91 thank you very much for leaving a comment and reading the article. Like you, i miss MC Mong. I consider 1N2D the greatest variety show of all time and I consider him to be one of the best rappers in Korea.
just to expound on the points: the military training is to prepare them just in case of war. i respect your view on using citizens as soldiers. however, it is the duty of every citizen to protect their country.
regardless, I do hope that MC Mong will find a new calling but if, in the future, Koreans decide to welcome him back, i will have to confess and say, i will support him.
Tali91 on July 29, 2013:
I signed up here just to make a comment. First of all, its obvious you put a lot of effort into this article and did a lot of research and for this I want to thank you. But even though I see your point and understand that the military service is important in South Korea, I have to disagree with you. You pointed out, that South Korea is still at war and that at any time a nuclear war could break out. But then you said celebrities should take their service seriously because its only 2 years of their lifes, not half of it. See, to me this is kind of contradicting, even if this was regarding the public service soldiers. If a nuclear war breaks out, chances that you don't just have to spend two years of life in military, but that you lose you life- as a soldier are pretty high, I think. Now who want´s to lose their life in a nuclear war for their country? No matter how much you love your country you always love yourself more, and this is okay I think. Im just against war in general. I think its something very primitive. Sending you men to serve your county. A fight that´s not theirs but their government´s fight. If the government is serving the public, how come the public has to protect the country? Sure the public should participate, but why is it, that it´s soldier´s who die, while the government survives? Its not fair, I think. Maybe Im just a butthurt MC Mong fan, but I think everybody deserves a second chance. And if the korean public can forgive a man like Jo Hyung Ki who killed a woman in her 30s while driving under the influence of alcohol, then even tried to hide her body but got caught only to serve 1 year in prison, then they should forgive MC Mong, Seven & Sangchu too. Jo Hyung Ki appeared on tv right after he was released. I apologize for this long text.