Monday, May 11, 2009

Inside Viva: The Pictorials

I’m pretty sure I saw my first copy of Viva: The International Magazine for Women during the summer of 1976. I was fourteen and hadn’t seen much visual porn (except for a few photos in a women’s liberation pamphlet where the coupling lovers seemed so frozen in place I assumed they were dead). I had been reading sex scenes in books for quite some time before that, but that’s another story (see my discussion of The Godfather).

When my middle sister came home to stay with us for the summer after her last year of college, she put away her extensive collection of Viva’s in the bookshelf of her nightstand in plain view. My parents didn’t seem to care, they probably didn’t know what was in them. Magazines for women were by definition “safe.” And a lot of the magazine was safe enough. There was very high-brow fiction, like an excerpt from Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and interviews with Warren Beatty and Helen Reddy as well as feminist roundtables and confessions from Vietnam vet’s wives. But there were also pictures. Of naked men.

A comparative viewing (and I have both, so let’s pass them around) reveals that the Viva pictorial is definitely different from those in its brother magazine, Penthouse. Viva always provides one “narrative” series involving a couple and one feature which offers a variety of different naked men, say clothed crotch shots of men involved in different professions or “pin the tail on the male” where you try to match the naked butt with the face. At the time Penthouse, on the other hand, was almost exclusively a look into a lady’s boudoir. Apparently in private most ladies lounge around in various states of nudity and study their pubic hair with great concentration.

But the Viva pictorial provides so much more: props, costumes, atmosphere, even literary and historical references. Is this because the female mind needs more story, more relationship, more stuff to be aroused? Or just that the editors assumed so? At any rate, given that Emerald and I were discussing our love of The Great Gatsby, I was amused to find a pictorial called “A Glimpse of Gatsby,” where a brawny brunette with 1970s style good looks (a sort of Chad Everett look, if you’re old enough to remember "Medical Center") and 1920s clothes lounges around with a Daisy Buchanan blonde.

This intertextual approach does spark my imagination and I got to thinking it might be nice to see a whole series of these peeks into famous lovers' bedrooms. Maybe juxtapose this elegant afternoon tryst with an earthier Tom-Myrtle pictorial set in their New York City hideaway (with a few shots of Nick Carraway listening in)? Then proceed through the great works of literature—Darcy and Elizabeth’s honeymoon; a steamy encounter between Heathcliff and Cathy. Maybe move on to historical figures: JFK with Marilyn, Bogie and Bacall, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. The possibilities for couples in costume (and out of them as well) are endless.

Yet, even as I appreciated the context, I gradually became aware of a growing discomfort, even anxiety as I viewed these pictures today. I finally realized what it was. There are no erections. These naked men are in the presence of beautiful women in lingerie, kissing them, caressing them and still their members hang like limp hoses. Long, thick, limp hoses, but still. As a teenager, I remember noticing, although not fixating on the organs, but now, it’s hard to focus on anything else. All of the pictures cannot be set the afterglow. And yet, junior is not so happy to see the lady. Is it a relationship problem? A case for Viagra?

Of course, the simple explanation is that if Viva portrayed these situations realistically and showed aroused men, it couldn’t have been sold with Playboy and Penthouse at airports and newstands. It would be relegated to sleazy porn shops, and few women would ever see it, much less buy it.

However, the magazine still worked its magic on my adolescent mind. In fact, there is one picture fantasy that lit my fire then and still brings on a glow today. In the next post, I’ll talk about the Viva spread that stayed with me for more than thirty years and was mostly responsible for my e-bay buying spree. Til then, let's check out that great interview with Helen Reddy! (“I Am Woman” was my shower song of choice for more years than I care to admit).


Erobintica said...

Having never had the pleasure of seeing a copy of Viva, I think I'm going to thoroughly enjoy your little show and tell. c

Craig Sorensen said...

You've covered a lot of ground here, Donna, and given me much to ponder!

I love your perspective on growing up in the 70's (from The Godfather Medical Center (!!!) to "I am Woman"!) Funny about the erections, but if you watch the soft core sex movies they play at night on Cinemax and Showtime, the same thing plays now. If you do get a glimpse of a man's goods, they are suspiciously soft, though the "hawt" woman is all over him!

Seems we haven't advanced much in some ways!

Donna said...

Thank you, Robin, I hope to do the magazine justice ;-). And I'm sorry to hear progress has not been made since the 1970s, Craig. People are always wondering how porn start stay so hard, but I have to wonder how the soft porn guys stay soft...WAIT A MINUTE, DUH! I finally understand why it's called "hard" and "soft"! This is literal.

Okay, I'm slow, but hopefully I get there in the end, lol.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Nice picture! And I see what you mean about the Chad Everett hair.

Too bad about those unrealistic penises. Maybe when the mags were new they came with a sheet of stick-on erections, so that readers could correct the photos at home?

Now I'm wondering what games one could play with Viva magazine, Viva salad dressing, and Viva paper towels.

P.S. My spamword got the best of me this time. Yep, according to the verification bot, I'm the dupee.

Donna said...

Lol, Jeremy. Yes, I imagine the stick-on's would be the first thing to fall out of the magazine along with the subscription cards!

Erobintica said...

hahaha - I imagine the stick-on's would be the first thing to fall out of the magazine - falling erections!

Donna said...

Love it, Robin! Hmm, I seem to be slow figuring these things out, even my own jokes.

I guess the topic of penises just flusters me too much!

Emerald said...

What an interesting picture! And what a beautiful idea about the famous couple pictorials.

Indeed, I have heard such mention of a lack of erections in such contexts before. (Playgirl, to which I had a longtime subscription, was a welcome exception.) And Craig also mentions a good point that in softcore porn, hard cocks are pretty much the only thing not shown.

"Maybe when the mags were new they came with a sheet of stick-on erections, so that readers could correct the photos at home?"LOL! And nice of you indeed to have it raining erections around here on your blog, Donna!

By the way, here's the quote I mentioned and didn't have access to the other day from the preface of my copy of The Great Gatsby:

"The Great Gatsby does not proclaim the nobility of the human spirit; it is not politically correct; it does not reveal how to solve the problems of life; it delivers no fashionable or comforting messages. It is just a masterpiece."

I love that.

Donna said...

Great to see you here, Emerald. You don't happen to have any of those Playgirl's on you for us to check out, do you ;-)?

And yes, what a perfect--and true--description of the novel! It does seem to capture something about the American spirit, our special brand of longing. I do seriously read that book every year or so and enjoy it more every time.

Emerald said...

I have a ridiculous stack of Playgirls — so many, in fact, that I have been known to use the pages for wrapping paper if I find myself in need of it (only for select gifts, of course)! ;)

I just realized I forgot to attribute the quote — it's from Matthew J. Bruccoli (a University of South Carolina graduate student studying Fitzgerald, I believe).

Perhaps it's time for me to read The Great Gatsby's been at least a few years.... Thanks again Donna!

SusanD said...


neve black said...

I'm sorry to once again be late to the blog party conversation.

The summer of 1976...hmmm...that could be the title of a DGS book, I think. :-)

Learning all about VIVA, vicariously through you Donna is so interesting. Viva is of the Penthouse family? Well, then that would make sense of the more conservative covers - those porn God's were targeting a different market -

Be careful, the idea of the stick-on hard on's could somehow catch on and start to replace Viagra. LOL!

How funny. All this talk of The Great Gatsby - I recently re-read this book, because of my research project. That character can be found in many people past and present - which is a bit scary, actually.

Wonderful post. Thank you for letting me come late to the party. I'm looking forward to learning more.

p.s. I do remember Chad Everett and Medical Center. Okay, now that's really frightening.

Craig Sorensen said...

You know, I'm kind of embarrassed here. I've never read The Great Gatsby.