Michael Swartz is one of those teens to whom parents of other kids point and bemoan, "Why can't you be like him?" Swartz, vice president of the student body at Barry Goldwater High School, was having what he calls "a really great" senior year. Until, that is, he became known as Michael Swartz, underground-porn distributor. Last month, Swartz was suspended for ten days by Principal John Hudson, after he handed out about thirty copies of the periodical Amerikan Underdog.
The two-page issue in question was written by Bill Smith and Jerry Johnson, two erstwhile Goldwater High Bulldogs with a knack for X-rated one-liners that poked nasty fun at the principal, an assistant principal, a former football coach and a teacher.
Johnson had dropped out of Goldwater before he and Smith printed their glandular rag. Smith was placed on permanent "home-study" and soon transferred to Deer Valley High. Fearing litigation, Smith never admitted to school officials that he had anything to do with the Amerikan Underdog other than to distribute it at the school. But they booted him out anyway.
"The previous two issues we did last year were both satirical and political, and the administration didn't bother us," Smith says. "In this one we decided to get a little nastier."
Far too nasty, says the principal.
"I've always been a staunch supporter of freedom of expression," says Hudson, who has been principal of the 2,100-student high school since it opened three years ago, "but if you look at the issue, it's clear that there wasn't any guidance on it and there should have been. People took it really hard here and it got our whole staff down. They work so hard for the kids, and for this to come out really hurt all of us. You should take a look at this from the humanistic standpoint as well as from a First Amendment standpoint."
The lead story is a very-close-and-personal look at a Goldwater administrator and his fiancee. And it's made up. The kids also pasted a photo of the woman on a voluptuous, naked body. The other "photo" shows the head of the administrator attached to the body of a muscular fellow wearing nothing but bikini underpants.
"And what exactly do these llamas of love want out of their relationship?" Underdog asks. It answers for the administrator: "All I want out are high-pitched squeals of ecstasy."
Another article, headlined "`Ladies' Man' Turns Out To Be Lady/Man," purports to be a "tear-filled" interview with a former coach apparently known around the school as Mr. Macho. Underdog dryly notes that, "unlike his penis, his career was long and distinguished."
Smith and Johnson say they photocopied about 500 copies of Underdog, and Smith brought them to school on the morning of February 22. He handed some to Michael Swartz and to another Goldwater student and asked them to pass them out.
The Deer Valley School District limits distribution of nonschool-related materials. But the Goldwater student handbook doesn't spell out those rules, which in part say students must receive permission before handing out anything on school grounds.
At the end of that school day, the principal pulled Swartz, Smith and another boy out of class. "Pretty soon," recalls Swartz, "they suspended me for ten days and told me I was kicked out of student government for passing this thing out.
"I asked them if they'd let me resign so it wouldn't be a bad mark on my record, and they said okay. Teachers had read the previous issues in class, and there were discussions about what was in them. I thought the issue showed creativity and it was kind of outrageous. It was a great year until all this came down on top of me. I just wanted to keep up my grades and have some fun until I graduated."
That hasn't swayed Goldwater's administration.
"Someone had to make a call and I made the call," the principal says. "I truly don't want our student paper to parrot what the administration says, despite the Supreme Court case last year that gives us much more power in that area. That ruling doesn't affect underground papers anyway. But even good kids make bad decisions sometimes, and they have to be responsible for their actions. These are not eight-, nine- or ten-year-olds, you know."
Swartz says that shortly after he returned to school, he also was booted off the school's video yearbook staff. He still, however, is on the school's official newspaper staff, as entertainment editor. And he's become a hero of sorts to his fellow students. "I'm kind of a martyr in a way," Swartz laughs. "It's kind of cool."
In the wake of the brouhaha over the Underdog, another student printed his own underground paper, The Poop
Scoop, featuring a photograph of Swartz holding his suspension notice.
"I had no trouble with that issue or if the students want to write about all that's happened with this in our student paper," the principal says. "As long as it doesn't slander or libel somebody, criticism of those in charge is completely proper."
And will Bill Smith and Jerry Johnson keep up their antics as north Phoenix's adolescent answers to Hustler's Larry Flynt and Screw's Al Goldstein? "Absolutely," Smith says. "There's a good chance a new issue might appear one of these days. They spawn in the sewers and there's no telling where they might go.