Disturbing documentary Tickled goes down a dark and vicious rabbit hole
After I saw the recent documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, I was left with a strange, uncomfortable feeling. It was a feeling of amazement, of confusion, of not quite understanding exactly what I had seen. I knew I had little chance of explaining it to anyone else, beyond simply urging others to watching it.
I loved the excitement that comes with not knowing—the film was as thrilling as any feature. That Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary makes it all the more brilliant. It is without a doubt one of my favorite documentary films, one that I’ve hoped to experience again and again.
Most documentaries have an angle, telling their truth from exclusively one side. If there was an angle to Exit Through the Gift Shop, I couldn’t find it. It is completely unique.
Tickled is an equally unique documentary film. The uncomfortable feeling that comes from its viewing, however, is decidedly different. I wasn’t so much baffled by it as I was disturbed and frightened.
The story told is bewildering and sad, considering what at first seemed to a rather light subject. It begins by tackling the subject of a collection of online videos that depict the sport of “competitive endurance tickling.” What it comes to reveal is something far more sinister—it uncovers an international pattern of abuse that spans decades.
Competitive endurance tickling is not a sport in any sense of the word. Sports have goals and strategies and measurable outcomes. Tickling is something else. In some cases, it’s a bonding experience between parents and children, friends and lovers; it’s an innocent game played in cultures around the world. However, it is also a sexual fetish, like bondage or spanking, one of the many pieces in the puzzle of worldwide human sexuality. On the whole, it’s fairly tame.
Still, while the videos shown in the film feature no nudity, yet it’s clear that there is something pornographic going on. Like Supreme Court Justices, we know it when we see it. Fetishes and pornography are nothing new in the world of the internet, and while most of the world would giggle to themselves and move on, the real story of Tickled has little to do with sexuality and everything to do with money, power, and obsession.
It’s a look behind the scenes, behind the cameras, to just who is asking for these videos to be made and what the ultimate goal might be. It’s a rabbit hole of threatening behavior, frivolous lawsuits, and humiliation.
Unlike Exit Through the Gift Shop, there are quite few lessons to be learned from Tickled. Curiously, they are the same lessons many young girls learn from men like Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild fame. Namely, if someone gets it one video, there’s a good chance it will end up online. Another documentary entitled Hot Girls Wanted highlights the perils of young women entering the amateur porn industry and how the allure of easy money can lead to an unglamorous life on the fringe.
The men shown in these films suffer from many of the same consequences. The shame they suffer seems comparable in some cases. And yet the traditional porn industry comes across as far less shady. These young men are subject to criminal harassment by faceless antagonists with seemingly endless amounts of money and influence.
Simply asking to have a video removed can lead to evil, mean spirited personal attacks. Personal information is published online. Letters are sent to parents. Phone calls are placed to schools. Employers are called and jobs are lost. False accusations of hacking are alleged in an attempt to discredit the boys.
The antagonist in Tickled uses any and everything in their power, which again appears endless, in an effort to ruin lives. While the documentarians eventually track down the person behind the abuse, there is no real resolution, just the damage left in the wake.
Tickled was brought to Chattanooga through the Cine-Rama and likely won’t be seen in town again until it’s available on VOD. It’s the type of film fans have been clamoring for in this city for years. Before the Cine-Rama, there was no possibly way to see something like it without driving to Atlanta or Nashville. It’s a realization of a dream.
Keep an eye out for more films like it. You won’t want to miss what’s coming.