The legacy of Bonnie & Clyde

Arthur Penn died, the director of Bonnie & Clyde (1967).  Who besides me remembers when that came out?  It was a good movie, but it set some things in motion that resonate in Hollywood to this day.  For one thing, since it flagrantly flouted the Production Code (Hollywood’s self-policing limits on sex, violence, bad language, and immoral themes), that code was replaced the very next year with today’s permissive rating system.

Ed Driscoll resurrects an interview that leftwing journalist Rick Perlstein did for Reason magazine in 2008.  Perstein hails Bonnie & Clyde as a key “text” of the New Left.

Reason: You like to mix cultural history with political history. Bonnie and Clyde is one of the central texts in the book.

Perlstein: My theory is that Bonnie and Clyde was the most important text of the New Left, much more important than anything written by Paul Goodman or C. Wright Mills or Regis Debray. It made an argument about vitality and virtue vs. staidness and morality that was completely new, that resonated with young people in a way that made no sense to old people. Just the idea that the outlaws were the good guys and the bourgeois householders were the bad guys—you cannot underestimate [sic] how strange and fresh that was.

via Ed Driscoll » Easy Riders, Raging Boomers.

Notice that, to this advocate of the movement, the agenda of the New Left was not economic (like the old left) or even political (like the New Deal liberals).  Rather, it is precisely moral and cultural.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Greg Smith

    I remember seeing this when it came to television. I was just a kid but I remember after it was over wondering why I was cheering for the bad guys. Why was I sad when two ruthless cold-blooded killers were taken down at the end of the movie?

    I realized that movies had the ability to distort reality though, at that age, I would not have put it that way. That is why I don’t like certain types of movies. A recent example is “The Town” with Ben Affleck. Normally, I would not have even gone to see it but my wife was interested. The guys are robbing banks and armored cars. They are stealing other people’s money. Why do I like it when he gets away at the end? Because the truth has been manipulated. Hollywood can make you believe what they want.

  • Greg Smith

    I remember seeing this when it came to television. I was just a kid but I remember after it was over wondering why I was cheering for the bad guys. Why was I sad when two ruthless cold-blooded killers were taken down at the end of the movie?

    I realized that movies had the ability to distort reality though, at that age, I would not have put it that way. That is why I don’t like certain types of movies. A recent example is “The Town” with Ben Affleck. Normally, I would not have even gone to see it but my wife was interested. The guys are robbing banks and armored cars. They are stealing other people’s money. Why do I like it when he gets away at the end? Because the truth has been manipulated. Hollywood can make you believe what they want.

  • Rick Perlstein

    Wherever do you get the idea that I’m an “advocate of the movement”?

  • Rick Perlstein

    Wherever do you get the idea that I’m an “advocate of the movement”?

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I thought NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was the movie that started the MPAA regulating.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I thought NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was the movie that started the MPAA regulating.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Rick Perlstein, you aren’t an advocate of the New Left? You don’t approve of this legacy of Bonnie & Clyde that you describe? Clarify and I’ll change what was said.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Rick Perlstein, you aren’t an advocate of the New Left? You don’t approve of this legacy of Bonnie & Clyde that you describe? Clarify and I’ll change what was said.

  • John C

    More influential than ‘the Green Berets’? Perhaps not.
    Movies rise out of the culture of the times. And there was a lot happening — the rise of the enviromental, feminist and anti-war movements; the assination of King and the Kennedys; Nixon and the sabatoge of the Paris peace negotiations. Too much for one film to bear. Elvis was far more influential than Penn.

  • John C

    More influential than ‘the Green Berets’? Perhaps not.
    Movies rise out of the culture of the times. And there was a lot happening — the rise of the enviromental, feminist and anti-war movements; the assination of King and the Kennedys; Nixon and the sabatoge of the Paris peace negotiations. Too much for one film to bear. Elvis was far more influential than Penn.


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