Gordon, Cambo, Clegg. This is your last chance.

Election 2010. Guffwatch!

And so, the day arrives. The final TV debate is upon us. As David Dimbleby wraps up tonight's show, I will let a single tear descend my cheek in tribute to one of the most pumped-up, super-hyped televisual and electoral events of all time. But hasn't it been fun.

Given it's the merry trio's last chance to woo and wow us with their performances (sorry, policies), here are some tips for them to make their mark, to lodge themselves in our minds, as we embark on the final countdown to polling day itself.

1. Gordon. My colleague James Macintyre has suggested a serious speech. An alternative: "You know what? I've had it with pretending I'm relaxed and happy. I actually want to take a swing at most of you. I KNOW BEST."

2. Cambo. You've really got to do something radical after the lacklustre simperings offered up in the first two debates. What about shaking things up from the start and sauntering on to the stage in some surf shorts, flip-flops, a backwards-turned cap and . . . yes . . . a hoodie! It would be like your own little private joke with the population. Look at me! So comfortable with you normal folk that I can even wear a hoodie! I'll hug myself! It would drive Clegg mad if nothing else -- his hands-in-pockets manoeuvre is pure down-with-the-kids stuff.

3. Clegg. DON'T MESS IT UP. You have mostly stormed it so far, so for God's sake don't think you're safe and start busting out leftfield lines for the sake of catching a few extra votes. You can almost imagine it -- Clegg, tired of his "old parties" routine, thinking that he's got it all sewn up and announcing a few off-the-cuff initiatives. Free Spanish lessons for your pets! Release all violent prisoners and send them to work in Gordon Ramsay's restaurants! Cut the deficit by turning the Houses of Parliaments into luxury flats!

4. Dimbleby. Really, after Stewart and Boulton, I think you'll have a good time tonight, showing all that natural chairing authority and silver-foxed cool. Just remember, though, this is not Question Time. There'll be no time for your quippy asides or long interventions. But perhaps he'll have an aide on hand to restrain him physically when Gordon gets out of hand.

5. The post-match analysis. Please tell me you've got someone good doing the interviews afterwards, someone (mentioning no names) who won't look over their shoulder like a bored person at a party while interviewing a cabinet minister. (Kay! Why did you do that?) Also, a profound, heartfelt plea to the BBC to drop their very own initiative -- the worm. Watching the worm chart the audience response (to summarise: "Oh look, Clegg's speaking, I like Clegg" -- yellow worm goes up. "Oh, but now Cameron's speaking, maybe I like him now" -- blue worm goes up) is possibly the most blood-icingly boring and pointless thing I have ever seen on TV. And this is someone who has watched Doctors talking.

Predictions? Brown will try to make light of The Gaffe but will ruin it by smiling. Clegg and Cambo will battle it out for the title of "youthful people-lover King". But Cambo will get lost in his big/broken/brazen society guff and Clegg will clinch it. The worms will win Guff of the Night, though, no doubt about it.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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