Two years ago, on May 6, 2014 to be exact, Auckland journalist David Farrier tweeted that he was “chasing a little story about bizarre ‘competitive tickling’ videos that are appearing on Vimeo.” Last week I saw the end result of the “little story” that lead Farrier and his friend Dylan Reeve down a very deep rabbit hole that led to the dark side of the internet, sexual fetish, and human nature.
At the time, a tweet like that was to be expected from Farrier. As the entertainment report for 3 News and Nightline for many years, he has a knack – maybe a penchant – for seeking out crazy and downright weird stories, with a passion for animals and all things geeky. I know him slightly, we were both once delighted onlookers to a manic dinner in Devonport presided over by Richard O’Brien and Barry Bostwick of the Rocky Horror Show fame. Farrier is a charming affable guy with a quirky sense of humour and an open-minded world-view.
Perhaps it was this that led him down the rabbit hole because when it came to choosing the Tickled red or blue pill, he grabbed the red one and plunged right on in.
The story unfolded over twitter, and his followers watched over the next few weeks as the competitive tickling story went from quirky to, in Farrier’s words “disconnected numbers, fake identities, blackmail, horrible humans, & $$$.” Homophobic abusive messages from shadowy figures, legal threats and traumatised victims quickly ensued.
I don’t know what pushed Farrier to pursue this story, clearly something about it set his journalistic instincts on fire and by May 15 he had set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 to fund a documentary. It hit its target and he and Reeve headed off to the US to track down the mysterious Tickler.
Last week, that documentary premiered in Auckland. Along the way, Farrier shrugged off his entertainment journalist frippery, and he and Dylan Reeve have produced as solid a piece of investigative journalism that you could hope to find. It is a well-made and lucid documentary of how the internet, money and denial conspired to draw people into places and situations they then found themselves trapped by.
The narrative is assisted by Farrier’s affable nature and acceptance that there are many flavours in the online world, there to be enjoyed by freely consenting adults, and his genuine compassion for the victims and shock at what he and Reeve discover.
As they start pulling the threads of the so-called “competitive tickling” world, it leads to bullying, exploitation, obsession and sociopathy. I don’t want to give too much away as Farrier’s and Reeve’s efforts in tracking and hunting down the person behind the tickling from slender leads and much persuasion is an intriguing, and at times horrifying, journey of investigative tenacity in the face of serious intimidation. Go see it.
Tickled will be released on May 26 in New Zealand