There are some films that instantly take you back to a certain period in your life while still feeling relevant today. Jordans or Justice is one of those for me. Having grown up in the era where Michael Jordan reigned supreme in the NBA, and watched the evolution of the Air Jordan sneaker craze, I was curious to see how many of today’s youth embraced the “sneakerhead” culture of today.

Jordans or Justice looks at the phenomenon that is Nike’s Air Jordan shoes, simply referred to as “Jordans” by those in the know. One of the more telling moments in the film arrives when a young boy, who has no idea who Michael Jordan is, tries to explain what makes Jordans so special. The elements of the shoe he points out, such as “shoelaces” and “squares”, are nothing that you could not find on any other pair of sneakers. It becomes apparent that all this boy really knows about the sneakers is the image that has been feed to him via numerous marketing campaigns. What was once a symbol of basketball excellence have been reduced to nothing more than a fashion statement.

One woman openly admits that she looks at a person’s shoes before judging whether or not the person is worthy of engaging in conversation. An 18 year-old proudly admits that he has 43 pairs of Jordans. The interesting thing is that this cycle of image and excess shows no sign of stopping. Like a drug, most of the participants in the documentary short admit that getting the last pair of Jordans, regardless of the cost, is all that is important. There is even an extra sense of pride if they manage to get a pair that no one else in their area has.

Jordan or Justice not only highlights the image factor that comes with owning Jordans, but the harsh realities of the shoes impact on society as a whole. Many of the sneakerheads are oblivious, or at least try to ignore, many of the overseas labor conditions that have been linked to the Nike brand. Employees in Asian countries are working long hours, and getting paid below minimum wage, to make shoes that people are paying anywhere from $120 to over $350 for. However, not all of the problems with the Air Jordan brand are overseas, there are darker ramifications closer to home. With the desire to maintain a particular image so prevalent, many do not foresee the financial and social burdens it will have on individuals and families. One commenter remarks that kids can identify every type of Air Jordan shoes but cannot read or write.

In a consumer driven society where we are being sold something at every corner, Jordans or Justice is a sobering reminder that image is not as important as we often think.

Jordans or Justice is playing in Program #1 – Young at Heart at the festival on June 2, 2012. For ticket information, and the full list of films playing the festival, please visit the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival website.