Earlier this year, more than 300 Michael Jackson enthusiasts paid approximately $3,400 each to meet him for approximately 30 seconds in Tokyo. Among the impersonators, fan-club presidents, and sobbing Japanese obsessives who shelled out was New York video artist Meredith Danluck. She had come to “Fan Appreciation Day” on business.
When Danluck heard about the event from a friend with Japanese contacts—“It really hadn’t been publicized that much in the U.S.”—she was intrigued by the persistence of the seemingly discredited star’s brand equity. First she tried to go as a journalist, but no press was allowed. Then she tried the honest approach, but no artists were welcome, either. So she decided to just go as a fan. No video cameras were allowed, but she’d recently used a digital camera that shot at 24 frames per second, the same speed as film. She could covertly get a usable video of the event while pretending to be taking still photos. West Soho gallerist Leslie Fritz agreed to pay for Danluck’s plane fare and entrance fee. Four hundred thousand yen later, Danluck possessed ticket No. 294.
Outside the Tokyo concert hall, a group of disabled children and orphans were carried through the throng by security to meet with Jackson first (they didn’t have to pay). After hours of waiting, the ticketholders were taken in one at a time. “I didn’t want to get a picture of me with Michael. I just wanted to film him alone for my 30 seconds,” Danluck says. But a handler seized her camera and pushed her toward Jackson for a shot of them together—presumably what everybody had paid all that money for. She tripped and fell into him. “I like your necklace,” he said. “Thank you,” she replied, touching the vampire-teeth pendant around her neck. “Can I have it?” he asked, smiling (his skin, she said, strained as if he was “wearing a dry mud mask”). “No, my boyfriend gave it to me right before we broke up.” He giggled, “That’s so funny.” A stiff velvet arm went around her shoulder for the picture. He smelled of “ladies’ powder.”
“I wish I had actually engaged him as a human being. He seemed genuinely sweet,” Danluck says. “But I was thinking, Shit, shit, shit, I came all this way and now I’m blowing it.” Without a good-bye, Danluck was led out of the room. Out on the street, she was surrounded by paparazzi, who screamed, “Did you touch Michael?” They chased her until she jumped into a cab. Danluck’s weird, loving twelve-minute video, “Michael Jackson, Jesus Christ … Coca-Cola,” is part of the opening show at Fritz’s Renwick Gallery on May 18. “It’s more about what’s around him,” Danluck says. “He is the third of that pop-culture holy trinity. What I filmed was a place of worship.”