Image Union, episode 2116: The Other MJ

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Documentary about a man named Michael Johnson, a janitor at United Center, the home of the Chicago Bulls. (The title refers to this connection between the subject and basketball star Michael Jordan.) Johnson talks about his life and history and also about his views on race, politics, and survival. As a low-income resident of the Chicago Housing Authority, Johnson is not the type of person usually given a voice on television. The tape is especially interesting because Johnson was taped again a few years later with updates on his situation and commenting on the impact being on television has had on his life. Some of the original footage was used in a program called "None of the Above", which investigated America's non-voters.

0:00 Bars and tone, slate with count-in.

0:46 Image Union opening.

1:16 Bob introduces tape by Tom Weinberg.

1:36 The Other M.J. Michael Johnson. He is a janitor at the United Center. We meet him during the Democratic National Convention. Skip Blumberg interviews. Johnson expresses disillusionment with the democratic system, and says he has never voted.

2:56 Johnson at “l” stop. He says he is grateful to have a job. He says he has learned how to spend his leisure time wisely since his job is very strenuous. He plays basketball most days after work.

4:01 Johnson at home talking about having six kids and trying to take them out on the weekends. He is 34 now, and was 18 when he had his first child.

5:01 Johnson at work, talking about how much money he earns. He doesn’t get any benefits because they only let him work 32 hours a week.

5:46 Johnson says that Cook County Hospital is the only place he could go if he got sick. He says this is why he tries to stay in shape.

6:20 MJ says he loves sports and it helps him relieve the stress of work. He says before he got his job he was unemployed since he was taking care of his sick m other. He was on disability pay before for alcoholism. He then reveals a history of drug use.

8:36 MJ explains that after his mother died, he got separated from his wife, which was an extremely rough time for him. He says it was very hard for him to be away from his kids and his mother.

10:02 MJ shows us his tatoo “IBM.” That is his nickname, but he also has always wanted to work for IBM. He talks about starting many different types of job training, but not following through. He says that after he was nominated for an employee award, he has become very motivated and never misses work.

11:19 Shots from the 96 convention. MJ says that the convention brought about a lot of jobs for the area.

11:51 Driving with MJ. He says they are tearing down all of the projects they are passing, but building more prisons.

12:36 MJ says there was no real training for the job. He says his nephew owns a cleaning service, and that’s how he got his job at the United Center.

13:16 MJ says everyone he grew up with is either dead, in jail, or on drugs. He says he never goes back to his old neighborhood now. He says the North Side is like another world to him. We go with him on the train home. He talks about the neighborhood he moved to. He says he lives in the roughest part of the North Side, but that it is Kiddie Land compared to where he comes from. He lives in Cabrini Green after he and his former wife were evicted from a home on the West Side.

16:09 MJ cleaning. He says that he has been working at the United Center for six months, which is good experience for him to find a better job. He wants to eventually own his own business. He is not worried about saving for retirement because he doesn’t think he’ll live that long. He says he doesn’t make enough money to save, or at least it’s not worth it.

18:08 MJ on phone with ex-wife. Her company has gone bankrupt and now she is unemployed. She was about to buy a house, but now she can’t afford to move out of Cabrini Green.

19:08 MJ gets a page from one of his kids. Today is his daughter’s birthday, so he has plans with her. He wraps a present for her. Her name is Sheila, after his sister who was stabbed and killed.

20:26 He mentions seeing Ted Kennedy that day.

20:43 Jesse Jackson on stage at convention. MJ says that he is definitely a democrat, he just hasn’t voted because he doesn’t relate to any of the white politicians who don’t know what life is like in the projects.

21:36 MJ with his daughter and her friends. They go to Wendy’s and he gives her some presents. He gives her a new backpack and a keyboard.

24:09 MJ says he has given up on 40 acres and a mule and the good life, and is just trying to survive.

24:36 MJ update, 1999. Tom Weinberg interviews. He says he has moved to a new place, he has a new car, changed to full time work, and now is a grandfather. He now gets benefits, and seems to be very happy with his current life. His 16-year old daughter is the one who just gave birth. He says his life is relatively similar now, but a little better. He talks about Clinton’s impeachment and about Michael Jordan retiring. He talks about the effect of seeing himself on TV. He says that today is MLK day and he relates a quote by King.

27:33 Tape credits.

27:51 Image Union credits.

28:56 End of tape.



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