I was supposed to write this (and publish it) months ago, like pre-election, months ago. Pero, things happened, a ton of shit (see: breakups, job shit and general wackness) crashed through my life like the Kool-Aid Man and now I’m here. Never on time, but always there when you need it eh?
Anywho: Let’s do the TimeWarp again kids!
Tickled is part documentary and part fantastical journey, centering on one journalist’s mission to reveal the dark layers of underground fetish tickling. Yes, you read that right. Read it again.
Now, there’s nothing innately wrong with fetish tickling. And the film has a great segue into detailing (and further eroticizing) the practice with some money shots of ripe man nipples hardening and ripply abs jerking away from a variety of tickle toys. While the politics of this segue could be argued; namely, Farrier seems to simultaneously revel in and be disgusted by it, it’s there nonetheless. Despite this, the majority of Tickled concerns itself with the predatory nature of “Jane O’Brien Media,” a production company that recruits mostly young, white, muscled men, to be tickled on camera in “competitive tickling” shoots. While the company pays them out handsomely, things get sinister when these strapping young men decide that they’re done with the ticklish-for-pay life. From terroristic threats to extortion to slander to framing, Jane O’Brien Media’s supposed frontwoman entraps these young men in some terrible situations.
Being a something of a petty journalistic bloodhound, David Ferrier takes it upon himself to find out why and how. As detailed in the trailer, this vendetta move is sparked by a series of homophobic communication Ferrier receives from Jane O’Brien Media in response to his initial request for a cover story opportunity. So along with his production partner Dylan Reeve, he leaves New Zealand and scours America for clues and background to this conspiracy. And a conspiracy it is.
Without giving anything away in particular: all isn’t as it seems and Ferrier’s production team does a great job of weaving the story. From what seems like an innocuous request to write a short Buzzfeed-esque thinkpiece, Ferrier and co are quickly thrown into a world that’s about as shady as a voguing oak tree. In recent times, talk of “infosec” (see: information security) and “The Dark Net” have come back into vogue with shows like Mr. Robot and issues like Russian state actors hacking our grids and the reign of La Naranja Maldita being real-life things. But Tickled brings it to life in such a way that it makes things relatable in that “this could’ve happened to me/my friends/someone I know” way.
Part of this has to do with the sheer reach of the narrative — connecting Jane O’Brien Media to similar tactics of a notorious fetish forum troll named “Terri Tickle,” Tickled rewinds and begins dissecting early internet culture, forums and kink production going as far back as the mid and late-90’s. Building up to the here and now, the victims also become relatable, even if you don’t share their identification. Through time, we see how Terri, or Jane O’Brien, or whomever the fuck is doing these things, loves preying on young, impressionable and increasingly impoverished or broke young people in their teens and early 20’s.
Sure, some of it has the air of panic-inducing child predator and gang reporting of the 80’s and 90’s (and now). But, Tickled does make us wonder if some of these panics weren’t necessarily rooted in *enough real life* stories to become foghorn alerts for the community.
Note that I’m not endorsing such panics. Rather, technology and the dispersal of culture plays(ed) a large role in how these panics endure and proliferate. And in Tickled’s case, the idea of doing videos for the internet may seem less seedy now. But think back to a time when FaceTime wasn’t a thing and people named yesjulz couldn’t just amass an empire off of “directing vibes” and being strategically “real” (see: rich and inane) on SnapChat. Pre-Oversaturated-with-Internet-Things America was a scary place, and Tickled does dive a bit into how much this was a fact in the then-new wondrous and dangerous frontier of the internet. This is especially true as we watch Ferrier discover just how deep the rabbit hole goes, ending up in a series of situations not unlike America’s current situation — backed against the wall with scions of money-grubbing capitalists and mediocre men holding us hostage.
Of course, all these dramatic turns are as much a result of the pure salaciousness of the story as they are Ferrier’s approach. Possibly out of pettiness, and possibly out of trying to turn an obscure story into a full arc, the documentary plays much more like a fictional thriller or true-crime show than anything else. And to a certain extent, it definitely in those things. Which brings us to very interesting understandings of how documentaries may proclaim to push objective fact, but often have to lean on their fictional siblings’ conventions to provide a story that isn’t simply a transcript.
Not to say that this is bad. Rather, like social media platforms, it forces us to accept and remind ourselves of the fact that all art is still just a constructed reality that we opt-in to, influence and are influenced by. And thus, we are subject to our own biases just as much as these works are not without their own politics and agendas. While I stand with Tickled, its closing thoughts and its revelations, this point is very important because it allows us to see into these films and also call bullshit when things are labeled as “about an issue.” Nothing is apolitical, so everything is “about an issue” or an “issue film.” The question is, what side do you stand on, exactly?
In Tickled’s case, it’s hard not to hate the villains and see just how dark things get. But, ironically, that’s me speaking from my very own biases. So, watch the film and see for yourself. It’s a great way to celebrate the seedier side of Valentimes Day and, maybe, a great way to finally get your possibae into that tickling fetish you’ve been keeping from them.
Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following: IG | Twitter