When you hear about a documentary about the world of Competitive Endurance Tickling, that response you just had, yep that one just then, was probably the same as mine. And yet, when you watch David Farrier and Dylan Reeve's film, you see that it is not a film about extreme sports, or even tickling for that matter, but very much about the state of America, class and the vices of privilege. Tickled, it is needless to say, is a terribly odd and rather scary journey.
So, how do you find Competitive Endurance Tickling? Facebook of course. And Jane O'Brien Media in particular. David Farrier is 3 News' "Pop Culture Reporter", the guy who does the fun, odd bits on the news to lighten the mood, interview Justin Bieber (poor sod) and getting kicked by goats. It is a tough job. But when Farrier found the videos of fit, athletic men, being tied down and tickled, he knew he'd found his next story. So he popped a request for an interview on Jane O'Brien Media's Facebook page and continued with his life. Until, that is, Jane responded. The message he got back wasn't so much a refusal as a homophobic rant, which considering the content of the videos, is rather surprising. Farrier decided to dig deeper and what happens next is frankly astonishing. After the company refused to speak in an civil way to Farrier, he turned to a friend of a friend, Dylan Reeve, and they looked into the digital footprint of Jane O'Brien Media. They found hundreds of domains registered around the world and the various companies backing the sites up. Then, alongside the ranting emails, legal threats and comments on Facebook, Jane said that they were sending people to Auckland to discuss the situation. The filming of the arrival of the group, who travelled First Class from The States, is remarkable for the display of geniality turning to the anger that we already recognise as a Jane hallmark. The threats, and the depth of pocket of this organisation, become stark. David's posts on the 3 News website are taken down and David is told in no uncertain terms of the fight he is facing, “It was like, obviously, they do have a shitload of money … they’re not joking." David and Dylan do take it seriously and they jump a plane, head to LA to try and find out more.
In LA, they meet one of the few people that will talk about it all, ex-ticklee TJ, a former Football player. TJ was offered $2000 to be tickled on camera. A lot of money for something that seems rather harmless. Its a story you've heard before, TJ needed the cash but, in this case, he wasn't doing porn, he was just going to be tickled. He made a few "audition" tapes and thought nothing more of it. Until the videos started appearing on YouTube. When he got YouTube to take one of the videos down, Jane O'Brien Media struck back. Sending letters and emails to friends, family, the football teams he played on and the school he coached at, his life feel apart. The format of the attacks are familiar from what we've seen with David, but with TJ they went further. Sites in his name began to appear with the videos he'd been involved in. TJ lost his job and his life was changed forever. It all sounds like something that Jon Ronson would have loved for So You've Been Publicly Shamed, except this was not a crowd surge of momentary hate, but a coordinated attack to destroy a person. As Farrier and Reeve dig deeper, they meet Richard who has made a career out of tickling videos, but they also meet recruiters for the various incarnations of Jane and even the improvised MMA fighters in rust belt Michigan where the same life TJ was subjected too is repeated. It turns out that the man behind all this, and it had to be a man didn't it, is a poor little rich boy named David D'Amato. A former High School guidance counsellor convicted and jailed for identity fraud, but not the other crimes documented in Tickled, by various other journalists Farrier and Reeve interview here or the FBI. Some reviews of Tickled, interestingly, refuse to mention D'Amto by name due to the potential legal threat, as litigation the common recourse of American Privilege. Considering that no one reads this site, hello and welcome if you are, we'll see what happens. But the man the documents found and shown in this documentary details, is a calculating bully, who clearly has issues. Considering that he showed up for a screening of this film and that his company, Jane O'Brien Media, has even setup a site debunking the film, you must think he's kind of enjoying his notoriety. You can find the site at www.TickledMovie.info.
While the third act denouement in Tickled is a tad drawn out, the film is a remarkable achievement, especially considering the subject matter. The tag line "It's No Laughing Matter" couldn't be more true. It is not often you watch a film that completely skews your perception of something, but Tickled does and shines a light, not so much on a perfectly understandable sub-culture, but on those who get off more on control, fear and power, than watching, or by being, tickled.
Tickled is out now in the UK.