In this issue: Who’s gaming the system? Is it the comic book distributor, MPAA, or is it the evil Robot Overlord that pits the Major Spoilers Crew against each other in an argument that no one can win?


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Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly, and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to the Robot Overlord. Robot Overlord may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds. The Robot Overlord contains a liquid core, which if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at. If Robot Overlord begins to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head. Do not taunt the Robot Overlord.


  1. On the movie rating shenanigans, watch “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.” They make a strong argument against the MPAA rating system. The best example of favorable rating for a major movie corp is “Memoirs of a Geisha” earning a PG-13 rating. The documentary is available on Netflix’s streaming system.

    Consistency is one important factor. Another is transparency.

  2. I’ve heard things on the podcast that I’ve disagreed with before, but the MPAA discussion (Major Spoilers Podcast #401 from Saturday, April 14) was in a class all its own.

    First let me say that the MPAA ratings system pretty terrible, and is arbitrarily and inconsistently applied, at best. Major studio releases get a great deal of leeway where independently released films endure much greater scrutiny. This is power wielded by the studios to marginalize indie films that might compete with their major releases and this practice is not a secret. There is a pretty good documentary on this very subject called ‘This Film Is Not Yet Rated’. It’s available on Netflix streaming I believe.

    That being said I’d take the MPAA over a government run ratings board any day. While Matthew and Rodrigo didn’t outright advocate such a board they seemed pretty OK with the idea of something like this replacing the MPAA should it cease to be. This would be a terrible idea with terrible consequences. The First Amendment implications would be vast, and negative.

    Assuming such a ratings board were empowered through the Congress, the FCC, or some other agency you must also assume that the people sitting on such a board are going to be appointed by a presidential administration, a Congressional committee or some other body controlled by the administration or the Congress. This ratings board is now inherently a political institution with ties to a President or a Congressional leadership and their respective party agendas.

    Let us imagine a film is made with a story focusing on a controversial topic such as abortion. Let us assume the President through the FCC appoints the members of this hypothetical ratings board (could also be a congressional committee with committee leadership determined by majority party). This president is a Bush style conservative, and the film paints abortion in a fairly positive light. The language is not especially course, there is no nudity, but due to the themes of the film this ratings board, beholden to a conservative administration and its agenda, brands the film with an NC-17 rating. The board knows that many theater chains simply will not carry NC-17 films. Many retail chains will also not carry NC-17 films on home video, and the movie can be effectively censored. Imagine such a board in existence when Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9-11 came out.

    Now imagine the opposite, and a pro-gun film comes out, or a film critical of a proposed sweeping social program of a left-wing president, and the board holds the film up on some technicality (and these types of boards and agencies ALWAYS have technicalities). Some statistic or another is contested by the board (actually the administration) until the legislation is passed.

    One issue mentioned with the MPAA is the corrupting influence of studio money, and ‘gaming the system’. I don’t know if Matthew and Rodrigo are familiar with agencies like the EPA and FDA that regularly feature revolving doors of industry people becoming agency employees and back again, but ‘gaming the system’ is how those agencies work. The studios already exercise a lot of influence inWashington, and seek to control the internet and the distribution of media via crap legislation like SOPA and PIPA. For a sickeing example in media see the recent career of former Senator Christopher Dodd, a champion of the execrable SOPA bill and now chairman and CEO of the MPAA.

    Money would corrupt a government ratings board as it does the MPAA now, but with the added effect of that money further corrupting elections and spilling over into other areas of public policy. At least with the studios funding the MPAA they are all competing with each other in the private sector, working with and against each other to make sure no single studio gains a ratings ‘advantage’.

    Movies today can be released without a rating (it is rare, and makes a theatrical release extremely difficult). Once the government became involved it wouldn’t be long before rating became mandatory (to make sure everything is ‘fair’), and once it became mandatory for film, then it will expand to television, because that is the way government agencies and programs usually work. Mission creep, and expansion of power are the rule and not the exception. The threat of government ratings for television is how we got the current ‘voluntary’ ratings system.

    If you want a replacement for the MPAA Ratings system, something truly independent and unattached to the industry or government along the lines of Consumer Reports or UL (Underwriter’s Laboratory) would be a good solution. Involving the government is wrong-headed and would have disastrous results for the film and television industry and especially for free speech.

    • Geoff Shotts on

      Just finished listening to this podcast, and was going to write about the MPAA discussion, but Bruce said it better than I ever could.

    • TL;DR.

      Seriously, though, my point was not that government regulations would be better, but that it wouldn’t be any more or less odious or inconsistent than what’s already in place.

      • But it would be more odious, because once the government is making the call the inconsistencies have censorship implications exactly as I described. It is the difference between the private MPAA making distribution of a film difficult, to the Government making the distribution of a film essentially illegal. An ugly, unethical business practice vs. censorship with the potential for fines or arrests.

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