David Farrier is a journalist from New Zealand who specialised in the lighter, more eccentric stories, appearing on television there to present human interest tales with a wacky angle. Therefore when he heard about tickling videos online, specifically tickling contests as a sport, he was naturally intrigued and began to investigate these supposedly official clips of young men in sports gear pinning each other down and tickling one another. However, when he did try to contact the organisers he was sent a barrage of e-mails from one "Jane O’Brien" informing him that she believed him to be a homosexual and there was no way she was going to have anything to do with connecting this activity to anything of that sexual orientation. Far from putting David off, it served to intrigue him all the more...
Sometimes you happen upon a documentary that described not simply events you were previously unaware of - that happens often enough - but events that you could not conceive of occurring, so alien are their subjects to your experience. So it was for a lot of viewers with Tickled, a downright peculiar account delivered in matter of fact, investigative journalism style with an almost lighthearted flavour belying its extremely sinister heart. Farrier and his co-director Dylan Reeve were far from menacing, but they were determined to get to the bottom of this plot they had uncovered, and the details they delved into revealed a very murky underworld of exploitation about something that sounded ridiculous.
When was the last time you were tickled, after all? It's something the vast majority grow out of when they’re kids, but as our directors discovered, there is a fetish, a subset of the sexual domination scene, where certain people get their kicks from watching helpless men be tickled. You would like to think bullies left their habit of victimisation in childhood as well, but that is not always the case, and the people behind the tickling contest came across as suffering a serious line in arrested psychological development. This was probably better to approach knowing very little about, for the full impact, but the villains here would be familiar to anyone who had seen the effects of internet trolling.
It was the advent of the communication medium that brought them their perfect delivery system for their nefarious methods, indeed, they seemed to get as much of a thrill out of the internet trolling as they did the sexual side of tickling, leaving the footage we did see of young men making a couple of thousand much-needed dollars by taking part in these videos extremely disturbing: just imagine some creeps masturbating to this and it would make you shudder. Then when we are told these men had their lives ruined by an internet campaign which plastered the videos, along with invented accusations of such unlovely crimes as drug abuse and child molestation, across as many online platforms as they could, all because they objected, or worse, wanted to leave this behind, and you had a highly troublesome piece.
It may not have sounded all that believable, that this sort of illegal activity, persecuting the victims for years in many cases, could be going on without anyone for the afflicted to turn to, but that you can see was what the criminals were banking on, along with a legal claim to do whatever they wanted. Once again, it was the domination position that got them going, and we perceived the power dynamic that allowed them to get away with their machinations, the underdog versus the overlord, those with pitting themselves against those without. The main issue here was that Tickled had no real ending, it reached the hour and a half point and you felt the story had more places to go, but simply cut off with the time-honoured captions over a black screen; a little-seen follow up short called The Tickle King was produced, but it did leave you hanging, though a search on, yes, the internet would give a little closure to the life of one of those involved, possibly the twisted mastermind behind the entire affair.