Competitive endurance tickling is an alleged sport that consists of handsome, athletic males being tied to a bed and tickled relentlessly by one or several other handsome, athletic males. It seems to exist only in the form of videos on paid membership websites. As such, it is so not a real sport. David Farrier, an entertainment journalist from New Zealand with a specialty for finding people with bizarre hobbies, stumbles upon an invitation to an event for competitive endurance tickling, and having concerns over the veracity of this “sport,” he recognizes this story is right up his alley. Farrier emails the company behind the event, asking if he can do a story on them.
The email Farrier gets back is a homophobic rant—the company looked into his background and wants nothing to do with an out gay reporter. Farrier smells something fishy, because the tickle videos seem to be a gay fetish disguised as a sport. What follows is Farrier and the filmmakers attempting to shine a light on the shadowy organization involved in the production of the videos and the contentious figure who finances them.
Farrier and company track down some of the young men who appeared in the videos, and they reveal a disturbing backstory: after expressing they wanted out of the business, they became the victims of cyberbullying, as their families and employers were informed of the homoerotic videos. Since many of the men do not consider themselves to be gay, this understandably complicates their personal lives. The video company, assumed to be behind the bullying, makes it nearly impossible for these men to pursue any other form of work—an extreme punishment for their decision to appear in some soft-core material.
While making the documentary, the alleged video financier also attacks Farrier and the filmmakers with harassing emails and threats of legal action. However, the more stories the team digs up, the more it becomes clear that the person behind it all has another fetish. The title of the film therefore applies as much to the filmmakers and the young men in the videos as to the enjoyment that the mystery puppet-master feels from dominating those under his control.
Tickled will draw comparisons to HBO’s documentary The Jinx, about millionaire Robert Durst, suspected in the murders of two women. There is also Netflix’s recent Team Foxcatcher, about the U.S. wrestling program and how it turned a blind eye from a sponsor, eccentric millionaire financier John du Pont, who was clearly psychotic and eventually murdered wrestler Dave Schultz. It joins this new class of investigative documentaries focusing on the devastation that can result when those who have money at their disposal do whatever they want.