Over the years, fetishes of various types and degrees have crossed my path — striking, plugging, clamping, binding, restraints, apparel, footwear, dom/sub, and sensory overload or deprivation. I must say, tickling as a main course was a new one on me. The documentary Tickled starts out humorously and homoerotically enough, but descends into serious power issues including cyber-abuse and what I perceived as extortion. It’s a captivating film and ultimately serves as indictment of control monsters and a cautionary tale to would-be victims.
David Farrier is a New Zealand TV journo specializing in quirk, oddball and wilder-than-fiction stories. When he happens upon an internet thread about “competitive endurance tickling” and sees videos featuring fit young guys in restraints being tickled to a torturous brink — most often by other athletic lads — his reporting appetite for the freakish and funny is piqued. This is not porn in that there is no nudity or sexual activity. Most of the participants are kitted out in average gym shorts and tees.
Figuring the company producing the videos would appreciate a free bump in the media, David launches a friendly note of interest. The reply is confrontational, insulting and homophobic — Farrier is gay and out. The peevish retort served launches a challenge and Farrier takes it.
Language referring to tickling organizations as “tickle cells” conjures ideas of clandestine activities (activist cells, terrorist cells, etc.). As with many fetishes, practitioners are not “out” because of feared misapprehensions about them and what they enjoy.
Then there’s the money, which is a major lure for participants and most likely the driving force of the pernicious persons orchestrating the video empire. Fetishists can be obsessive, and they’ll spend whatever they can to sate their fascination.
As Farrier digs, he meets tickle video performers, some of whom were lied to in order to gain their participation (granted, it takes some willing ignorance and money lust to swallow the lies). The fetishists I’ve met consider honest communication sacrosanct. Not so in this situation. Some tickle video performers who wanted out were menaced with threats of exposure, personal, and professional ruin.
Farrier has come against legal action, which as of last winter’s Sundance Film Festival — where Tickled made the top of many critics’ lists — he is still enduring. Other documentarians have assured him that lawsuits are par for the course.
The satisfying conclusion to the documentary unmasks the villains, whom if they had a grain of intellect and diplomacy might have deprived us of this documentary which is alternately giggle-inducing and jaw-dropping.
Tickled opens in Denver at Landmark Theaters on July 1. visit LandmarkTheatres.com/Denver for location and showtimes.