LIVEBLOG: Mitt Romney's horse, Rafalca, goes horse-dancing

How will Rafalca fare? And what does it mean for the Republican candidate's Presidential hopes?

 

12:06
alexhern: Hello everyone, thanks for joining today for the inaugural horse-dancing liveblog.
 
12:07
alexhern: Obviously, we're all very excited to see how Rafalca Romney does. Could be some real clues to how the election will go down in November.
 
12:08
alexhern: 
Psephologists actually refer to this event colloquially as "the election in August".
 
 
12:09
alexhern: A couple of horse-dancing videos to get you pumped for the main event:
 
12:10
alexhern: Firstly, a lovely number from Ireland:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzYzVMcgWhg
 
12:12
alexhern: 
Sorry about the massive picture of Helen Lewis there. She submitted it in haste.
 
 
12:12
Comment From Helen L 
Aha, I see my attempt to include an avatar may not have worked so well there.
 
12:12
alexhern: Another video while we wait for Rafalca to take the stage: http://t.co/CX7SKY6J
 
12:12
Helen L: Here's a video of Stephen Colbert learning about dressage on the Colbert Report
 
12:12
Comment From adamawhite 
and the modern update of that classic Irish tune here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljPFZrRD3J8
 
12:14
alexhern: Some facts about Rafalca: She's 15, which is a tad old for the Olympics, and is a bay Oldenburg.
 
12:14
alexhern: She describes herself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, although she is steadfastedly opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds.
 
12:14
Helen L: And here, because politics is weird now, is Rafalca herself rebutting Stephen Colbert's mockery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99-0ROz_qbA
 
12:15
alexhern: Despite being owned by Romney, Rafalca has kept the religion of her birthplace, Germany, and is a Catholic horse.
 
12:16
alexhern: Mitt Romney, of course, will not be attending the event. Although he told the press that he "doesn't even know when its happening", most commentators believe that he can't bring himself to watch a performance which could make or break his presidential run.
 
12:17
alexhern: Rafalca off to a good start there
 
12:17
Helen L: Rafalca has just executed a "very good halt"
 
12:18
Helen L: "Into the Piaf"?
 
12:18
alexhern: This horse is dancing exquisitly. Slightly bouncy, which is normal for conservative republicans.
 
12:18
Comment From Mikey Smith 
Is that horse wearing a baseball cap? Cruel.
 
12:18
alexhern: Yes, Mikey, it's an attempt to connect with blue-collar voters.
 
12:19
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
15 is ridiculously old for the Olympic Dressage. Is Rafalca a former racehorse perchance?
 
12:19
Comment From Caroline C 
Doesn't have enough 'lift' apparently. Such a shame...
 
12:19
Helen L: "This horse's hallmark is obedience and accuracy, as opposed to brilliance". Very much like Romney himself. #METAPHOR
 
12:19
alexhern: Mark, Rafalca is essentially being entered to boost her value as a breeding mare.
 
12:19
Comment From Guest 
Are you sure a horse takes its surname from its current owner? Curious political statement there Alex
 
12:19
Helen L: Rafalca is now doing what I believe is known in dressage as "the running man"
 
12:20
alexhern: Guest, if you ask @rafalcaromney herself, I'm sure she'll be able to explain.
 
12:20
alexhern: She breaks into a canter exactly as planned, but seems a bit unhappy at the prospect. Perhaps Romney is planning to pick a female VP?
 
12:21
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
But at 15 - is Rafalca not past her prime age as a breeding mare?
 
12:21
alexhern: 
Mark, Rafalca would like to remind you that Ronald Reagan was president well into his eighties, and that experience really counts in this field.
 
 
12:21
alexhern: This field being horse dancing.
 
12:21
Helen L: "Pirouette there was a little big, could have had a bit more sitting"
 
12:21
Comment From Caroline C 
She's doing funny little panty gallops now. What does this mean for the GOP's chances, Alex?
 
12:22
alexhern: Caroline, Ohio, a key swing state, really hates panty gallops. It doesn't look good.
 
12:22
Helen L: "Good extended Trot". NO ONE TELL RUSH LIMBAUGH
 
12:22
Helen L: BBC commentators don't seem to know if Ann Romney is there to watch, as expected
 
12:23
Helen L: AND IT'S OVER
 
12:23
alexhern: 
I genuninely can't tell if my feed is skipping or if Rafalca's passage has got off centre 
 
 
12:23
Helen L: The rider is 53, which is nice. Must be one of the oldest competitors in the Olympics.
 
12:23
alexhern: 53 points. Romney is in with a fighting chance in November.
 
12:23
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
USA USA USA
 
12:23
Helen L: The slow-motion replay makes the horse look like it's moonwalking
 
12:24
alexhern: Well, that was an astounding performance. Romney has certainly won the Dressage Independents round with his horse.
 
12:24
Helen L: 69.91 points
 
12:24
Helen L: 70.213 per cent now, just been raised
 
12:24
Helen L: Oh, a sighting of ann Romney there
 
12:24
alexhern: (Dressage Independents is a term that pollster Frank Lunz came up with, to describe wealthy voters with horses who nonetheless hate the Republicans almost as much as Democrats)
 
12:25
Helen L: "The world of the horse has people from all walks of life"
 
12:25
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
Useful list of number of horses by state. This'll be crucial come November. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Horse_population_state_by_state
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
A "Halt and rein back" there. Which is a maneuver that Mitt had to carry out on his press staff in London last week...
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Of course this is just the first day of the first dressage stage. And there are three dressage stages. SO it's not over for Rafalca yet
 
12:25
Comment From Caroline C 
What? A controversial recount?
 
12:25
alexhern: The Supreme Court will be unlikely to touch this one, after the negative publicity surrounding Bush v Gore.
 
12:25
Helen L: Does Rafalca have more or less chance of winning than Mitt himself?
 
12:26
alexhern: And that's the question, isn't it? We can but hope.
 
12:26
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
BBC Commentator: "The world of horses has people from so many different walks of life." Let's be clear, that's not REALLY true.... And I say that as someone who partially owns a horse...
 
12:26
alexhern: 
Mark Ferguson of LabourList there, leading light of the British socialist movement and equestrian.
 
 
12:27
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
12 US states have an official state horse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_horses
 
12:27
Comment From adamawhite 
Do you think Rafalca's 'foreign' name is likely to pull in the latino vote, or alienate the WASP block?
 
12:27
alexhern: Adam, this is a key concern of Mittens Romney. Unfortunately, as a family man, he can't just let her go.
 
12:28
alexhern: Anyway folks, that's all from us. This has certainly left us much to mull over. Based on his horse's competition, I'm pegging Romney as picking an African-American VP, but then flunking the second debate as matters turn to foreign policy. It's all signposted in the canter.
 
12:29
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Correction: Although I may be the partial owner of a very old and often injured dressage horse, I am no Equestrian. As I have never sat on a horse.
 
12:29
alexhern: 
Our apoligies to Mark.
Leida Collins-Strijk of Holland riding On Top at the FEI World Cup Dressage Qualifier in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

ILONA WELLMANN/MILLENNIUM IMAGES, UK
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How the internet has democratised pornography

With people now free to circumvent the big studios, different bodies, tastes and even pubic hair styles are being represented online.

Our opinions and tastes are influenced by the media we consume: that much is obvious. But although it’s easy to have that conversation if the medium we are discussing is “safe for work”, pornography carries so much stigma that we only engage with it on simple terms. Porn is either “good” or “bad”: a magical tool for ­empowerment or a destructive influence on society. Many “pro-porn” campaigners shy away from nuanced critique, fearing it could lead to censorship. “Anti-porn” campaigners, convinced that porn is harmful by definition, need look no further than the mainstream tube sites – essentially, aggregators of clips from elsewhere – to gather examples that will back them up.

When we talk about the influence of porn, the emphasis is usually on a particular type of video – hardcore sex scenes featuring mostly slim, pubic-hairless women and faceless men: porn made for men about women. This kind of porn is credited with everything from the pornification of pop music to changing what we actually do in bed. Last year the UK government released a policy note that suggested porn was responsible for a rise in the number of young people trying anal sex. Although the original researcher, Cicely Marston, pointed out that there was no clear link between the two, the note prompted a broad debate about the impact of porn. But in doing so, we have already lost – by accepting a definition of “porn” shaped less by our desires than by the dominant players in the industry.

On the day you read this, one single site, PornHub, will get somewhere between four and five million visits from within the UK. Millions more will visit YouPorn, Tube8, Redtube or similar sites. It’s clear that they’re influential. Perhaps less clear is that they are not unbiased aggregators: they don’t just reflect our tastes, they shape what we think and how we live. We can see this even in simple editorial decisions such as categorisation: PornHub offers 14 categories by default, including anal, threesome and milf (“mum I’d like to f***”), and then “For Women” as a separate category. So standard is it for mainstream sites to assume their audience is straight and male that “point of view” porn has become synonymous with “top-down view of a man getting a blow job”. Tropes that have entered everyday life – such as shaved pubic hair – abound here.

Alongside categories and tags, tube sites also decide what you see at the top of their results and on the home page. Hence the videos you see at the top tend towards escalation to get clicks: biggest gang bang ever. Dirtiest slut. Horniest milf. To find porn that doesn’t fit this mould you must go out of your way to search for it. Few people do, of course, so the clickbait gets promoted more frequently, and this in turn shapes what we click on next time. Is it any wonder we’ve ended up with such a narrow definition of porn? In reality, the front page of PornHub reflects our desires about as accurately as the Daily Mail “sidebar of shame” reflects Kim Kardashian.

Perhaps what we need is more competition? All the sites I have mentioned are owned by the same company – MindGeek. Besides porn tube sites, MindGeek has a stake in other adult websites and production companies: Brazzers, Digital Playground, Twistys, PornMD and many more. Even tube sites not owned by MindGeek, such as Xhamster, usually follow the same model: lots of free content, plus algorithms that chase page views aggressively, so tending towards hardcore clickbait.

Because porn is increasingly defined by these sites, steps taken to tackle its spread often end up doing the opposite of what was intended. For instance, the British government’s Digital Economy Bill aims to reduce the influence of porn on young people by forcing porn sites to age-verify users, but will in fact hand more power to large companies. The big players have the resources to implement age verification easily, and even to use legislation as a way to expand further into the market. MindGeek is already developing age-verification software that can be licensed to other websites; so it’s likely that, when the bill’s rules come in, small porn producers will either go out of business or be compelled to license software from the big players.

There are glimmers of hope for the ethical porn consumer. Tube sites may dominate search results, but the internet has also helped revolutionise porn production. Aspiring producers and performers no longer need a contract with a studio – all that’s required is a camera and a platform to distribute their work. That platform might be their own website, a dedicated cam site, or even something as simple as Snapchat.

This democratisation of porn has had positive effects. There’s more diversity of body shape, sexual taste and even pubic hair style on a cam site than on the home page of PornHub. Pleasure takes a more central role, too: one of the most popular “games” on the webcam site Chaturbate is for performers to hook up sex toys to the website, with users paying to try to give them an orgasm. Crucially, without a studio, performers can set their own boundaries.

Kelly Pierce, a performer who now works mostly on cam, told me that one of the main benefits of working independently is a sense of security. “As long as you put time in you know you are going to make money doing it,” she said. “You don’t spend your time searching for shoots, but actually working towards monetary gain.” She also has more freedom in her work: “You have nobody to answer to but yourself, and obviously your fans. Sometimes politics comes into play when you work for others than yourself.”

Cam sites are also big business, and the next logical step in the trickle-down of power is for performers to have their own distribution platforms. Unfortunately, no matter how well-meaning your indie porn project, the “Adult” label makes it most likely you’ll fail. Mainstream payment providers won’t work with adult businesses, and specialist providers take a huge cut of revenue. Major ad networks avoid porn, so the only advertising option is to sign up to an “adult” network, which is probably owned by a large porn company and will fill your site with bouncing-boob gifs and hot milfs “in your area”: exactly the kind of thing you’re trying to fight against. Those who are trying to take on the might of Big Porn need not just to change what we watch, but challenge what we think porn is, too.

The internet has given the porn industry a huge boost – cheaper production and distribution, the potential for more variety, and an influence that it would be ridiculous to ignore. But in our failure properly to analyse the industry, we are accepting a definition of porn that has been handed to us by the dominant players in the market.

Girl on the Net writes one of the UK’s most popular sex blogs: girlonthenet.com

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times