Imagining the Curtailed Future of Minx Through Viva
HBO Max’s cancellation of Minx means an abrupt halt to the story of the fictional feminist erotic magazine at the heart of the comedy. Diving into the trajectory of Viva, the real magazine which inspired Minx, provides a peek into the type of nuanced history we are missing.
One of the latest casualties of an overhaul of HBO Max done by Warner Bros. Discovery was Minx, a comedy centered on a semi-fictional erotic magazine for women published in 1970s Los Angeles. Despite a strong critical response to the first season, which premiered on March 17, 2022 and holds a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, new leadership at the streamer pulled the series even after a previous renewal and days ahead of production wrapping on the second season. Co-executive producer and star Jake Johnson has since said that filming will wrap and that the Minx team is hoping for a new home for the show.
While the fate of this almost-finished sophomore season hangs in the balance, and the deletion of many shows from HBO Max without much warning makes those who kept their DVD collection look ahead of the curve, the true history that inspired Minx is not lost. The fictionalized magazine at the heart of Minx was inspired by Viva Magazine, a ground breaking erotic publication created by Bob Guccione and Kathy Keeton as their follow up to Penthouse’s success.
Supreme Court decisions in 1972 and 1973 making birth control available for unmarried women and legalizing abortion opened new avenues for women in America to think about sex for pleasure. Guccione and Keeton, along with editor Gay Bryant, who was later credited with coining the phrase “glass ceiling,” decided that the market in 1973 was ready for a women’s magazine different from the homemaking and beauty tips offered by most contemporaneous titles. Viva paired articles on financial literacy and interviews with dynamic women such as Bianca Jagger and Erica Jong alongside centerfolds featuring nude men both in “love sets” and on their own.
Similar to the plot of Minx, male publisher Guccione partnered with a female staff who pushed Viva to speak to many facets of women’s lives, and who did not shy away from controversial content. The lifespan of Viva, which ran from September 1973 to January 1979, showed how this editorial team, which included the likes of Vogue editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and former Vanity Fair Senior Editor Anna Wintour, might give us a taste of what more seasons of Minx would offer.
Comparing the rare March 1974 and March 1977 issues of Viva in the OG Collection illuminates this trajectory. The content in both issues conveys the heart of Viva — wide ranging content that reflected the complexity of its readers. The March 1974 issue included a nude pictorial of a couple titled “The New York Story” back to back with an interview with poet, author, and activist Maya Angelou. March 1977 included both an investigative report titled “Women’s Success Workshops: How supportive group environments help unlock hidden potential” by Sally Platkins Koslow, and an article by Cathy Cash Spellman on “That New Black Magic: A consumer guide to the occult.” Each issue of Viva offered erotic, hard-hitting, and practical content.
In 1974, however, some of this content was still written by men for women. The most prominent example is “The First Word,” the editorial opening of the magazine. The March 1974 issue featured Fred Darwin speaking about environmental and financial shortages in an article that could have just as easily appeared in Penthouse or Omni. Meanwhile, Kathy Keeton spoke directly to women about how they have been patronized by advice in women’s magazines for decades, cheekily titling her “First Word” “How to catch a man…Circa 1977.” Keeton offers a new kind of advice that extends beyond what to wear and what music to listen to, writing “Most women are supremely attracted to successful, ambitious men, no matter what their field, because they know what they want and how to get it. Why shouldn’t men be attracted to the same thing in women?”
The staff are at the heart of the shift to women writing about and for women. The March 1974 issue’s table of contents listed an even split of twelve women and twelve men as contributors, while March 1977 included fifteen women and just six men. Leadership echoed this trend, and might have been the cause, as 1974 to 1977 saw Kathy Keeton transition from just Associate Publisher to Editor, and included the addition of six more editors, all women.
While the content of vintage issues of Viva provide endless artistry and reflections on second-wave feminism, the leadership behind the magazine is also ripe for inspiration. The opportunities for historic analysis and new entertainment are endless if only shows like Minx were allowed the time to dive deeper into the story.
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