It can feel good to bond with others over something you happen to like. Fan clubs, online groups, conventions…hell, this very website, while a narcissistic display, is also a gathering place of sorts where people can discuss life, movies and various kinds of art (I hope). But like all things created by humanity, there is a dark side that can fester and take the entire community down with it, leaving a wake of harassment, regret and seediness. I’m not just talking about social fallacies that are still floating around in geek/nerd culture thanks to Various Regressive Movements That Shall Not Be Named. I’m talking about maliciousness that is so toxic yet so particular to a subset of civilization, that if it appeared in an episode of, “Law and Order” one would call it over the top. But here is the documentary, “Tickled” to show us that, unfortunately, there is a particular fetish of tickling that has quite a large community that engages with it in healthy ways…overshadowed in this case by an abusive asshole who goads, manipulates and abuses multiple people all in the name of getting off on videos of people getting tickled.

Ice T would have a fucking field day with this.

The story? Stop me if you’ve heard this: a journalist who specializes in documenting the offbeat side of things just so happens to stumble upon a video of people getting tickled. When they try to engage with a purveyor of such content on the internet, they get told to fuck off. So him and his partner decide to investigate further, uncovering a dark personality who has been targeting people for years, upsetting those in this particular community of tickle fetishists who engage in such a fetish in consentual, healthy ways. The true focus of this movie is on the asshole who goes under the name of Jane O’ Brien (amongst other names), who has been hurting people for a long time, and the more the journalists Dylan Reeve and David Farrier uncover things, the more the whole enterprise Jane runs seems…well, fucked up.

And it is fucked up, but it is also a lesson of what can happen when communities allow poisonous people to run amok just because they provide content. Being part of an underserved niche community surrounding a particular subject is one thing, but the existence of people like the core villian of, “Tickled” is a pox on any self-respecting community that exists around the consumption of, well, anything. Just because a person supplies stuff that happens to get you off or make you feel good, does not mean that one should not question WHY or HOW that stuff is produced. Mainstream entertainment has enough problems as it is, ones that dedicated people are actually addressing in their own ways. Niches, due to the insular nature created by being on the fringes, can unfortunately be hotbeds for abusers just as much as, if not more than, the mainstream, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

It is that ugly truth which drives the entire movie, and it does not let up. Granted, it does highlight some individuals who actually engage with it in a healthy way. In this instance, Richard Ivey, a gay foot/tickle fetishist who shows the moviemakers how ideal tickling is done: consentually, with equipment and care for the employees/customers. In that moment is a heartwarming story of a man coming to terms with their sexuality from a young age and bonding with people who are into the same thing (He even gets rich enough for this profession to quit his day job, an inspiration to, er, a weirdo like myself). It’s a ray of light in what is otherwise a dark story that is still going on as of this writing, and it’s a story perverts of all kinds ignore to their peril. Let’s get to work and clean our houses, people. Or, at least, understand that sometimes ostracizing folks from your social circle is not a bad thing.

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