Kiwi reporter David Farrier was poking around Facebook one day at work – always a bad idea – and he stumbled upon a competitive tickling league. You read that correctly. Apparently a company in Los Angeles was paying young, athletic men $1500 to fly to L.A. from around the world all expenses covered to compete in some sort of tickling sport. Farrier had to know more. Intrepid journalist that he is, he pursued the story, but he quickly uncovered a dark underbelly to what sounds like a sport preteen girls would have created at a slumber party. Tickled chronicles Farrier and his co-director, Dylan Reeve’s, travails as they try to find the truth behind the world’s weirdest sport.
Tickled is a hilarious documentary. The situation is so absurd, and director/narrator Farrier has a playful, sarcastic sense of humor. Even as the filmmakers uncover disturbing and tragic aspects of this tickling sport—strange as that may sound—there is a lightness to the film. Tickled tickles.
Beyond the sheer absurdity of the situation, the fun of the documentary is in uncovering more and more about this strange world of competitive tickling. I won’t spoil it for you. The filmmakers do an excellent job of taking their audience along for the ride, something many documentaries fail to do. Ferrier and Reeve are always in-the-moment and as aghast as we are at what we are seeing.
As the film progresses, we discover more and more truly troubling information about what tickling has cost the tickled and ticklers and about the powers behind the competition. I laughed a lot watching the movie, but as I’ve thought about it since, parts of it make me very sad. There’s real brokenness behind some of what we see. No matter how horrendous some of the crimes are that we learn have been committed—yes, crimes related to tickling—we ought not laugh at the hurt that fueled them. To Tickled’s credit, it ends not with a joke but with a sobering, sad truth about this “sport.”
As you might expect, there is a fetishistic aspect to all this tickling. And shame is weapon of choice for one person featured in the film. It’s the weapon that was used on him. We only learn this second-hand though. This person’s shame kept them behind closed doors (and lots of litigation).
The people Ferrier and Reeve actually interview about their involvement in this fetish don’t seem embarrassed by their proclivity. After all, why would they be willing to be interviewed on camera if they were? They are fine with who they are. If only we were all as generous in our reckoning of the appropriateness of others’ sexuality—if we have to judge it at all—then much of the tragedy revealed in Tickled could be avoided.