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The last time you were tickled, were you chained to a chair and tickled by another adult? Welcome to the competitive world of endurance tickling.
While you might associate being tickled with childhood, a 2016 documentary called “Tickled” focuses on competitive tickling and results in one of the movie’s villains being dead at the age of 55.
Researchers have looked into why children enjoy being tickled and adults not so much. For adults, we know that being tickled triggers our fight or flight response.
When the film’s directors, David Farrier, and Dylan Reeve, began looking into the ethical and legal implications behind competitive endurance tickling, some things did not go according to plan. More shocking was what occurred after the movie aired, which led to an HBO follow-up special called, “The Tickle King”.
The tale began when Farrier, who was a New Zealand television reporter with a penchant for unusual and quirky stories, came across “competitive endurance tickling” videos online. Typically, the videos involved young athletic men tickling one another, while the person being tickled was restrained.
Intrigued, Farrier reached out to one of the producers of the videos, via Jane O’Brien Media. In his request for an interview, the media company refused to associate themselves with someone they called a gay journalist (Farrier is bisexual). Farrier found the reply intriguing, as he thought the act of grown men tickling one another was, by proxy, “pretty gay”.
He decides to learn more and partner with a television producer named Dylan Reeve. They created a blog about their experiences, which led to threats (of legal action) from Jane O’Brien Media. The company sent three representatives to meet with them in New Zealand, including a man named Kevin Clark.
However, all that was accomplished is that the filmmakers felt bullied by the representatives, despite general pleasantries. After, they traveled to Los Angeles to visit the company’s (Jane O’Brien Media) video production site but were turned away at the door.
As they further continued their research, they began to speak with former stars in Jane O’Brien Media’s tickle videos, who allege that the company sought to embarrass or slander them as “deviants” or “homosexuals” when they challenged the company in any way. They felt that they had to comply or be subject to poor treatment. One recruiter described how an audition video he made went public, while others describe a string of negative experiences from the video’s “tickle torture” producers.
While looking into the history of tickle videos, they uncovered the early origins of tickling videos from the 1990s, led by a man known as Terri DiSisto, under the stage name or alias of “Terri Tickle”. There were other videos which were similar to tickling fetish videos and made for men who enjoyed watching other men.
During this search, they discovered old documents which linked Jane O’Brien Media to one of the administrators at a school connected to the “Terri Tickle” videos. Those listed a man with the name of David D’Amato, who had a six-month jail sentence after disabling computer systems at several universities, after a male student he was romantically involved with terminated their online relationship. Farrier and Reeve begin to suspect D’Amato is still involved with the filming of the videos.
Annoyed by the film, D’Amato accused Farrier of using a tourist visa for his journalistic gains. However, Farier was on a journalist visa, while it was O’Brien Media who encouraged international video cameo participants to use a tourist visa, despite their paid video involvement.
D’Amato filed a lawsuit in federal court, against the filmmakers, suggesting that he had no relationship with O’Brien Media and that the film defamed and slandered his name and business. He also took issues with negative comments by his stepmother, which played in the movie (she claimed she thought he had split personalities and was scared of him).
D’Amato asked for 40 million dollars in his suit and attended the June 2016 screening of the film in Los Angeles. There, he confronted the filmmakers and accused them of lying. However, despite his rebuttal about Jane O’Brien Media, many documents discovered seem to connect him with the company.
When he died (suddenly) at the age of 55 on March 13, 2017, many fans of the film wondered if he had faked his death to avoid public scrutiny. However, the film’s producers released a statement and copy of his death certificate, while his obituary can be found online.
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