Last month, an article that I wrote on knismolagnia (in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from tickling or being tickled) was featured in an online article in Vox about the documentary Tickled and the world of ‘competitive endurance tickling’ (CET). Given that endurance sports are by definition ‘extreme’ and that I have examined other extreme sports and endurance events in my previous blogs, I thought that CET would make an interesting topic to examine. Tickled was co-directed by the New Zealand journalist David Farrier and the videographer Dylan Reeve but turned out to be a far more interesting film than just about CET. It all started when Farrier came across an online advert placed by Jane O’Brien Media (JOBM):
“This is a shout out to TICKLISH MALE ATHLETIC FITNESS MODELS (aged 18-25) IN THE USA (all 50 states), CANADA, UK, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND AND JAPAN. What I’m shooting lately is unique. It’s been exploring several situations in which attractive, ticklish, and masculine guys are actually tickled in two different restrained formats, then involved in demonstrating some tickling skills themselves. Presently, I’ve been shooting all-male casts. It is important for you to understand from the get-go that this is not a fetish, or adult-oriented content endeavour. Also, no nudity or implied nudity work is a part of anything that I ever shoot. I repeat: recent shoots have featured all-male casts. This is a completely athletic activity with major competitive and endurance elements involved, including strategy and teamwork. I’m focused on Competitive Reality Endurance Tickling”.
It was when Farrier saw the phrase “Competitive Reality Endurance Tickling” that his journalistic instincts started to stir. The website advert said that successful applicants would be put up in a Los Angeles (US) hotel, have to wear Adidas branded clothes, and be paid US$1500 to participate. One of the CET participants Jordan Schillachi said in an online video: “This is a very competitive company…There’s probably 600 guys every 30 minutes sending pictures to want to get in”. By way of further background, the Wikipedia entry on Farrier noted that:
“In early 2014 Farrier began production of the feature-length documentary ‘Tickled’, which he co-directed with videographer Dylan Reeve. The project began when Farrier sought to do a ‘light entertainment’ piece about videos purported to depict ‘Competitive Endurance Tickling’. His inquiry to Jane O’Brien Media, the videos’ producer, was met with a hostile refusal to talk with him, prompting Farrier and Reeves to investigate further, and the film relates their efforts to find out more about the people involved in making the videos, and the person or persons behind them”.
If you type the words ‘competitive endurance tickling’ into Google, all the links that come up in the first two pages all concern the film Tickled and the various news reports and/or film reviews about it. The JOBM videos featuring CET all feature “young athletic men” who restrain and tickle each other and “compete to see who can stand to be tickled the longest”. Farrier simply wanted to find out more about the so-called ‘sport’ and contacted JOBM about the ‘sport’ and the videos it produced. Farrier received a “hostile” and homophobic response from JOBM that focused on Farrier’s bisexuality and asserting that CET is a “passionately and exclusively heterosexual athletic endurance activity”. The hostility Farrier received and the legal threats he received from JOBM spurred Farrier into making the film. Arguably using bullying tactics, JOBM tried their best to stop the documentary being made. Farrier and Reeve subsequently located where JOBM operated from in Los Angeles, and turn up unannounced at their premises but are turned away at the door of the JOBM offices. The Wikipedia entry on the film noted:
“Their research uncovers information about a person known as Terri DiSisto (or ‘Terri Tickle’), a pioneer of recruiting and distributing tickling videos online, in the 1990s. They interview another tickling-video producer, whose operations are a low-key affair. They speak to a few former participants in O’Brien’s videos, who describe coercive and manipulative treatment by the producers, such as defamation campaigns against them, exposing their personal information and contacting school or work associates to discredit them, in retaliation for challenging or speaking out against the company. A local recruiter in Muskegon, Michigan describes ‘audition’ videos he’d helped make, being published without the participants’ consent. Farrier and Reeve chance upon documents which link O’Brien to David D’Amato, the former school administrator behind the ‘Terri Tickle’ alias, who served a six-month prison sentence for disabling computer systems at two different universities on multiple dates. They determine that D’Amato now lives on a substantial inheritance from his father, a successful lawyer. After considerable effort to locate him, they confront him on the street, to which he responds with additional legal threats. Before returning to New Zealand, Farrier contacts D’Amato’s step-mother for comment; she implicitly confirms his “tickling” past, and he informs her of D’Amato’s ongoing involvement in it”.
The film exposes a ‘tickling ring’ that appears to have been operation for a couple of decades. The Vox article reports that the film tells three simultaneous stories:
“The first and most basic [story] is about people who like tickling and being tickled. The second, deeper story is about catfishing – the kind of systematic, continual deception you sometimes encounter when manipulative individuals obscure their identities online. The catfisher at the center of ‘Tickled’ may be shrouded in mystery, at least until the film really gets going, but they aren’t the stereotypical lonely human on the internet. Whoever’s responsible orchestrates an elaborate plot involving lawyers, a battery of legal threats and actual lawsuits, a cadre of real minions who willingly helped carry out the ruse, and a host of nubile young men who get paid to be tickled. And that leads to [the film’s] third and most compelling story, which is a story about power. ‘Tickled’ is what happens when you put power, wealth, and privilege into the hands of an internet troll with a single-minded goal: to crush his enemies and film people being tickled. ‘Tickled’ is a procedural; the process of how Farrier and Reeve uncover their story takes up most of the documentary’s narrative…‘Tickled’ occasionally gets into the nitty-gritty details of confirming the catfisher’s ultimate identity – by investigating website domains, stock photos, and more – in a way that might bore some viewers. But the clues Farrier and Reeve unearth along the way are generally so weird and unique that many people will find it riveting”.
The Vox article went on to question whether CET is just a creative name for a sexual fetish (which is where my previous article on knismolagnia made an appearance). Farrier’s view was that the videos might perhaps be about JOBM producing homoerotic fetish videos that they could make money from. (JOBM strenuously denied they sold the videos for such purposes. “This is not a fetish, or adult-oriented content endeavor”). The Vox article also said:
“Tickled explores the nature of tickling fetishes and the personalities of the people who wind up monetizing them: The documentary features one film producer who quit his day job after realizing he could make thousands of dollars a month by catering to people with this very specific fetish”.
When Farrier began writing about CET in 2014, online readers responded by saying that his writings reminded them of stories about an internet troll that had been operating with a similar modus operandi a couple of decades previously. Farrier cam to the conclusion that the troll and JOBM might in fact be one and the same. As Farrier observed:
“If you Googled ‘tickling videos’ and ‘internet,’ the story came up, so we made that connection very, very quickly. The circumstantial coincidence of how they [both] operated was very obvious, but going deeper than that was harder for us. To actually prove any of it – that’s the journey of this documentary. It’s good to go in cold and just let it unfold in front of you, and then, at the end of it, you should spend a little time thinking it all through again and decide how you feel. That’s what we did experiencing the whole thing, and I think that’s good for you as an audience as well”.
So if you want to know whether Farrier’s suspicions were confirmed, you’ll have to go and watch the film – but I’ll just end by noting that JOBM have now produced their own website (‘Tickled, The Truth’) to counter Farrier’s claims.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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Blackwell, S. (2016). Tickling. Prodomme. Located at: http://www.prodomme.com/fetishes/tickling
Farrier, D. (2014). Homophobia and competitive tickling. 3 News, May 7. Located at: https://web.archive.org/web/20140603201419/http://www.3news.co.nz/Homophobia-and-competitive-tickling/tabid/418/articleID/343206/Default.aspx
Him and Her Sex Blog (2012). Knismolagnia. February 12. Located at: http://himandhersexblog.tumblr.com/post/17661996177/knismolagnia
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Romano, A. (2016). New documentary ‘Tickled’ takes you into a world of sexual fetishes, catfishing, and internet secrets unearthed. Vox, June 21. Located at: http://www.vox.com/2016/6/21/11963566/tickled-competitive-tickling-documentary-explained
Wikipedia (2012). Catfishing. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfishing
Wikipedia (2012). Tickled. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickled
Wikipedia (2012). Tickling game. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickling_game