The unfathomable underworld uncovered in ‘Tickled’ is nothing to giggle about

Thursday 20th, October 2016 / 11:50
By Jennie Orton

VANCOUVER — One truth that has been irrefutable in the entirety of human existence is the presence, at all times, of very bad people whose relentlessly throbbing life goal is to do very bad things in dark corners where no one can find them. There has always been a fine line in the moral majority’s mind between these people and people who just prefer to live on the fringe and like what they like. David Farrier and Dylan Reeve attempt to show you the former in their documentary Tickled, but in the process of incredulously shining the light on a real story of extortion and terrorism, they topple over that line and include an innocent group of fetishists in the thesis.

Tickled is a tale of tickling competitions. One should stop short of saying “it’s exactly what it sounds like,” however, because it really isn’t. Unbeknownst to most of us, whom mostly left our tickling years behind us long ago, tickling has grown into a subgenre for fetishists and there is now a booming worldwide network of tickling competitions that can fetch a pretty penny for any strapping young gentleman who is willing to be bound to a mattress and caught giggling on camera.

Like most kink, this should fall into the “to each their own” category, but like with many things there has to be someone who ruins it for everyone. That someone: Jane O’Brien Media. Jane O’Brien Media is the Svengali at the helm of the most insidious network of tickling videos online and as the film details, goes to great lengths to acquire and then systematically haunt the lives of the participants.

O’Brien’s easy money offers are much like the real-life version of those ads you used to click on, before you understood the Internet, that would unleash a Trojan horse of expensive misery onto your iMac. Young men sign up, for various reasons, to be tickled on screen under the assumption that a) the money is good and easy, and b) the videos are for personal use only, or in some cases for use for the laughably ludicrous purpose of military torture tactical training, and will never be unleashed onto the cesspool of regrets that is the world wide web.

Turns out only the first part of that deal was actually true.

Upon realizing the videos are being broadcast online, the participants and anyone who facilitated their involvement in the videos attempts to have them irradiated are swiftly met with threats, abuse, and an almost Joker level of harassment (the exhausting and ugly Jared Leto kind, to be certain).

This is an injustice that never would have seen the light of day had it not been for Farrier and his attempts to contact O’Brien, very innocently at first, to document the competitive tickling world in a documentary. What follows is an almost surreal barrage of hateful emails designed to discourage further digging, at times referencing Farrier’s budding career and Reeve’s family in the threats.

Farrier, and at this point the audience, wonder aloud: “all of this over some tickling.”

But it’s just not about tickling. What unravels is a story of perversion, but not the perversion of the tickling fetish, in fact the perversion of privilege. And this alone is a compelling enough tale to go on.

Where the film suffers is the filmmakers’ obvious judgement of the fetish itself. When witnessing a filming at the home of reputable fetish filmmaker David Starr, Farrier winces in near disgust at the proceedings. In fact Starr himself is not a grand spokesman for fetishists who aren’t sociopathic blackmailers. So in the process of trying to paint an accurately creepy portrait of the villain of the story, Farrier villainizes the kink and the film begins to paint an underbelly that is about a mile too long.

What could’ve been a story about blue bloods with blood on their hands, and how easy it is for them to hide such a thing under expensive gloves, ends up being a one-sided shock tale about a world not many of us knew existed. And what has made it so hard for fringe groups to be who they are without suffering judgement is the act, by those observing, of highlighting the bad apples in our spotlights.

If Farrier had taken a more balanced view of the world he was looking into, we may have ended up with a more compelling tale of corruption and the sociology of privilege. Instead we ended up as voyeurs like people learning about the Barnum and Bailey’s freak shows, pretending we find it tragic when really nothing has changed.

So in the end, just like a tickling video to anyone but the film’s antagonist, this one leaves you scratching your head and pretty unsatisfied.

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