The Christian Moral Fable Known As “Legs”, By ZZ Top

There it was, right in the lobby of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Sweetwater Sound. (Non-affiliate, non-compensated commercial message: for the absolute best deal on a GOOD example of a musical instrument, as opposed to a Guitar Denter special, call Matt Emick at (800) 222-4700 x1249, tell him I sent you.) ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” coupe. (Strictly speaking, I believe it’s a Tudor, and some of you will know better than I do.) Hard to believe it was just forty-two years old when Billy Gibbons bought it as an unmodified ex-daily driver, and hard to believe it’s been driven across the country without incident.

Three of the video singles from ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” album featured the car as a central character; I vaguely remembered them from my youth, with the one that stuck out being “Legs”. On a whim, I decided to watch it again. Having done so, I asked my Instagram followers if there was any way that the “Legs” video would be considered acceptable for release were ZZ Top to make it again today. The answer is obviously “Hell no,” but it’s not for the reasons you might think. Turns out that “Legs”, for all its flash and sex appeal, is primarily objectionable in the modern context because it is, at its heart, a story of Christian morality.

Alright, here’s the video. Give it a view, if you have a moment. Or don’t, because I’ll discuss the key points below.

The action starts with a classically beautiful set of female legs walking across the street. The woman to whom they belong is revealed to be the traditional trope of Pretty Girl In Glasses. She absent-mindedly steps in front of some rough-looking, but friendly, bikers. No harm done, but as the wind blows at her skirt we see that she is, as they say, “stacked”.

She goes into the local restaurant, where she is taunted by some local scumbags both female and male. The same general group is harassing the short-order cook, who is a handsome young man. There’s a brief “meet cute” where the cook tries to take the girl’s order but he is shoved aside by the older, balding boss. The three members of ZZ Top appear out of nowhere and begin watching the proceedings. The girl orders food, takes it out, and drops part of it in front of the bikers without noticing. Then she returns to the shoe store at which she works.

Nothing too surprising so far, even to a modern audience. We can tell that the girl and the cook will eventually become a couple, because they are the two naturally sympathetic characters we’ve seen up to this point. Where things take an unusual turn is when she returns to her job at the shoe store. There, she is tormented by a fat woman and a gay man, both of whom are portrayed in stereotypical and negative fashion. Meanwhile, the young man is running after her with the rest of her order. He meets her in the stockroom, and we can see the beginning of a romance, but he is thrown into the alley by the gay dude and the fat woman, at which point he is almost run over by the Eliminator.

Three beautiful women, all white, all physically similar, get out of the Eliminator. We recognize them — or at least we would back in 1983, because this is the third video in which they’ve appeared with the car. They stand the young cook up and then they walk into the shoe store. The fat woman is eating a cake: one of the Eliminator girls takes it from her. Another one stands on the gay dude’s hand. Together, the girls shove our heroine’s tormentors into a few chairs. The ZZ Top fellows appear with a key to the Eliminator. We’re not sure why, because obviously the Eliminator girls already have a key. The four women — the heroine and the Eliminator girls — then go to a hair salon, where they kick the ugly old customers out so the salon can focus on our girl.

With the hair sorted, they try a few clothing stores, kicking the same old woman out of the fitting room so our heroine can demurely attire herself in lingerie and the latest 1983 fashion. Back at the shoe store, the employees who tormented her before literally kiss her feet as they fit her with new kicks. They get in the Eliminator (how four women fit in this thing is never explained) and head back to the restaurant. The eyes of the unpleasant customers are all on the Eliminator girls until our heroine gets out — and she is the finest of them all. She whispers in the ear of the same biker who nearly ran her down before. He lifts her onto the counter, and she briefly flashes her panties (which mortified the actress when she saw the video afterwards) before turning towards the cook. The boss attempts to get in their way, but she helps the cook over the counter.

A Meyers Manx appears and our couple boards it the same way Cinderella and her prince boarded their carriage. The Eliminator girls leave, possibly with one of the bikers, and the Eliminator itself disappears. The End.

We can all see why, in the phrasing of Buzzfeed, The ZZ Top Video Is Sexist, Racist, Sizeist, Homophobic, And Bigoted, And Here’s Why That’s A Problem. The “bad guys” are all ugly, fat, or gay. The “good guy” is tall, blonde, and handsome. The heroine is a stunner. The Muses, so to speak, are each at least a Los Angeles 9. It’s a racist, sexist, fatphobic message. You could never make it today, unless you made the heroine a fatkini model, changed the hero a neckbeard soyboy, turned the shoe store employees into straight white old men, and revised the Muses to be Serena Williams, a hijab wearer, and a man in a dress. Which would more or less guarantee that the video would have the viewing interest of the new Ghostbusters film — another way of saying that nobody would bother to watch it.

The real problem with “Legs” from a Current Year perspective, however, isn’t the window dressing of stereotype and trope that decorates the video. Rather, it’s the fundamentally moral, even Christian, message behind the thing. To wit:

For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.

Take a second look at the video. We have two attractive young people who are rescued from their “families” so they can run off together and start a new life together. It’s a hugely conventional message. The people who stand in their way personify the various deadly sins: anger, gluttony, lust, pride. They, on the other hand, turn the other cheek to their tormentors and are rewarded for having done so. Another conventional message: the girl has to be “fixed up” so she can appeal to the man. He, on the other hand, merely has to be hardworking and earnest — which he displays by suffering in the hot restaurant with the fussy customers.

But wait, there’s more. The “Gimme All Your Lovin'” video, which predates this, shows a young man who is “rescued” by the Muses — but his reward to is to sleep with all three of them and then return to his job. So there’s another message in there: for a man, it’s fulfilling to make out with random hotties, but the most fulfilling thing a woman can have is a monogamous relationship with an appropriate partner. That message doesn’t fly in the Tinderella Age, where all women are expected to participate in as much transitory, meaningless sex as a young man would. We no longer have “bad girls” and “good girls”, each deriving some satisfaction from their place in the world. Everyone has to drag themselves through the mud now.

Am I overthinking what is obviously a frivolous and ephemeral piece of media? Maybe so — but it’s interesting to see the stories of our American culture change over time. Remember that much of the knowledge we have about our ancestors comes from their plays and poems. What messages will our distant successors take from “Legs”? From “Sex And The City”? From “The Sopranos”? Will they see it as interchangeable junk? Or will an Edward Gibbon of the future carefully chronicle each bit of it to show how the American Empire crumbled into nothingness, into a future where Spanish-speaking people refuse to serve blacks and half of the population in America’s five largest cities does not speak English at home? These changes in our culture are not without consequences, both short and long term. Much of it hasn’t reached rural Ohio yet, and we still have a few empty spots left, so… if you have legs, you should know how to use them.

30 Replies to “The Christian Moral Fable Known As “Legs”, By ZZ Top”

  1. AvatarRob

    Wow. I was 11 years old when that was released and went into heavy rotation on MTV, back when they still “played that guitar” on the network. This video combined my love for cars, girls, and music in a way that still resonates with me today, seeing it after all these years. The way she looks at him as they ride off still gives me the, how you say, chicken skins. Thanks for sharing, Jack.

    Reply
  2. AvatarRobert Harris

    I’m glad the car has been preserved! Fun fact – I sold several motorcycles to “Frank Beard” when I worked at a Yamaha dealer in the 90s. Super nice guy.

    Reply
  3. Avatar-Nate

    You’re sliding into Conservative Middle Age jack……..

    I like this topic and await the comments .
    “We no longer have “bad girls” and “good girls”, each deriving some satisfaction from their place in the world”

    Perhaps one of the blessings of being geriatric is that this isn’t so completely, not yet at any rate .

    -Nate

    Reply
  4. AvatarPaul In Las Vegas

    This video was filmed in Newhall, CA. My wife lived there at the time and auditioned to be in the video but was only 17 at the time, so no go. I laugh about that every time I see this.

    Reply
  5. AvatarJames

    ZZ mined the genre relentlessly with their bluesy boogy. IMO most of their popular tunes were designed for maximal radio play. I liked the band and their music and they were not really that different from most pop tune smiths of the day. The majority of their popular output would never make it as it is all PC negative, take tube steak boogie. Gawd all, the Hele Mom’s and their TG offspring would freak.

    Reply
  6. AvatarWidgetsltd

    OK, so why are the guitars covered with white fur? What’s the moral, Christian message in that?

    I haven’t seen the “Legs” video in years. I watched it many times in 1983, when I was a fresh-faced 14-year-old and the vid was in heavy rotation on MTV. Viewing it again now, “Legs” strikes me the way that much of the 1980’s video/film media does: it’s a live-action cartoon.

    Reply
  7. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    I was,and still am, a fan of their early output, pretty much up to Degüello. After that they seemed more focused on radio friendly tunes, and less of a blues influence, culminating with Eliminator. Not that I dislike Eliminator, there are some great guitar riffs in it, I just prefer their early stuff.

    As for the risque inuendo’s and double entrande’s, that was a sign of the times. It had been progressing in that direction for many years, but by the 80’s it was up and in your face. Compared to lyrics from most modern hip-hop or rap however, the 80’s are nearly puritanical lyrically.

    Reply
    • AvatarRobert Harris

      “I was,and still am, a fan of their early output, pretty much up to Degüello. After that they seemed more focused on radio friendly tunes…”

      They went from ZZ Top to ZZ Pop about the time El Loco dropped.

      Reply
  8. AvatarEconomist

    The liner notes for ZZ Top’s Greatest Hits were a great piece of writing. Trying to explain all those innuendos as just innocent regional slang was brilliant!

    Reply
  9. AvatarPDQ

    I don’t see a gay man in the shoe store clerk. I see a caricature of an unattractive a**hole with bad hair and no fashion sense. Gay men are friends with the pretty girls, not their tormentors.

    I imagine most LGBTQ types in rural Ohio leave rural Ohio in pursuit of a better, happier and more productive life with opportunities for growth and success. So I understand why you might have been mistaken there.

    Reply
  10. AvatarNoID

    I’d argue against the notion that promiscuity is fulfilling for either gender. One person I respect described it in terms of cheesecake. His entire life the only cheesecake he knew was of the Jello variety. Then one day, on a high school or college trip to NYC, he tasted bona fide New York Cheesecake.

    Promiscuity appears fulfilling, and in the moment it satisfies the appetite, but it can never compare to a long term relationship with the right counterpart, physically or otherwise.

    “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”

    What I’m trying to say here is Jello cheesecake will kill you.

    Reply
  11. Avatarkhaotown

    “Am I overthinking what is obviously a frivolous and ephemeral piece of media?”

    A thousand times, yes.

    The video is a dopey cartoon, void of substance to the degree that anyone with any given point of view could impose just about any message onto it that they wanted. Surely someone somewhere has written a piece on that video teasing out a message of female empowerment – admire how forcefully those women right the blatantly sexist wrongs of the situation! Observe the short order cook’s functional impotence, and appreciate how that contrasts with the unwavering confidence of the newly empowered woman whisking him away!!!

    I’d recommend backing off from the 80’s music video deconstruction pieces – slicing and dicing tripe yields no red meat – but if you can’t resist the instinct, at least give us some Twisted Sister.

    Reply
    • Avatarnightfly

      I’d say it was more “yes and no.” Yes, in that a single video like this really doesn’t hold up against the professional standards of critique – it is “just a stupid music video” – but no in the sense that what Jack is describing is the unspoken basis behind the small little morality play that the video tells, and in the space of our lifetime that basic framework, built slowly and laboriously through centuries of storytelling, has been vilified by the deranged and the delusional. Further, a lot of that destructive work was done under cover of “Why do you care so much, it’s just a stupid (video, comic, game, movie, etc etc), it doesn’t matter.”

      It does matter. Not individually, any more than one grain of sand is the whole beach, but we can’t have the whole thing dug up and paved over. It’s worth stopping to consider how the debunkers and humbugs thought that even some stupid music video was not too little for them to ravage, even while they mocked those who would defend it for being obsessed with such an unimportant thing.

      Reply
  12. AvatarDougD

    Overthinking it. I direct you to Simpson’s episode 633.

    ZZ top continued to make videos with three girls, albeit with less complex storylines. Check out “I Gotsta Get Paid”, you get bonus point if you can actually listen to the entire song…

    Reply
  13. Avatargtem

    “You could never make it today, unless you made the heroine a fatkini model, changed the hero a neckbeard soyboy, turned the shoe store employees into straight white old men, and revised the Muses to be Serena Williams, a hijab wearer, and a man in a dress.”

    ZZ Top boys would be making a nu-male grimace in front of their Eliminator.

    Reply
  14. AvatarRick T.

    Saw Billy Gibbons and Warren Haynes perform ‘Workin’ Man Blues’ at the Haggard tribute last spring. It appears the videos have been removed or disabled which is a shame. One of the best performances I’ve even seen. Haynes was new to me and a revelation as a performer. More than held his own with Gibbons.

    Reply
  15. Avatar05LGT

    Re “could never make it today”; take a quick look at the top however many country videos you can stand. Won’t take long to refute every one of the “can’t” themes.

    Reply
  16. Avatarrpn453

    Are they on acid? Mescaline? Ether? That video would fit right in with Fear and Loathing.

    I had the Zed Zed Top (Canadian edition, obviously) Hot Wheels car. I think it may have come from McDonald’s. I recall getting a black Bronco, a flamey black Ford Roadster, and an orange C3 Corvette as Happy Meal toys but I’m not sure about the Eliminator.

    Reply

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