“Is it just one person or a bunch of people doing it?” That’s one of the various questions Joe Naylor had for me when I called him up this week. Naylor is the director of the gay superhero-themed 2008 porn film Psy-Cloned, and the “it” in Naylor’s question is viral remixes of the film’s most famous scene, in which two Spider-Men slap each other on the ass for six minutes. To answer Naylor’s question: It’s a bunch of people. The Spider-Man ass-slap video is arguably the most popular Spider-Man movie in the country, besides the other one.
In the fall of 2015, Spider-Man’s ass was everywhere. On Vine, when you least expected it, it would happen: A clip of two men in tight-fitting Spider-Man costumes would appear, slapping each other on the ass and — if you paid close enough attention to the clips — emitting grunts and moans. It was the sort of video that might get you into mild trouble at work; it would certainly raise the eyebrows of anyone in view of your computer screen. The pair of web-wonder asses could come from anywhere, synced to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” or the final sounds of the GameCube start-up chime.
Armed with an old email address I’d found on a janky GeoCities-esque page on the Internet Archive, I’d been trying to get in touch with someone from Pig Daddy Productions, a now-defunct adult-film company at which Naylor was a main creative force. “I created, shot, directed, edited all 65 of our productions,” he proudly boasted in his first email.
The Spider-Man clip comes from an adult film known as Psy-Cloned, made by Naylor and starring two performers that he recalled as Ray Boy and Ace. While the Spider-Man clips are not labeled, a related clip on PornHub called “Psy Cloned — Scene 1” and its thumbnail are obvious giveaways that it was produced on the same set. A quick Google search produces the shoddy box art (link NSFW) that boasts, “The evil villain has a new plan to clone his very own sexual superhero!” and confirms the ass slap’s provenance.
According to Know Your Meme, the Spider-Man Ass Slap, as it’s now known, came to life in the summer of 2015. On August 8, 2015, a Vine user by the name of JoeyD uploaded offscreen smartphone footage of the two Spider-Men groping each other, filmed as someone giggles in the background. By October 30 of that year, “The iconic spiderman ass slap” had nearly 48,000 loops. (JoeyD’s Vine account has since been deleted, so I’m working with an incomplete snapshot provided by the Internet Archive.) A month before JoeyD’s Vine, a YouTube user had edited the Spider-Man slaps into a music clip from the Japanese band Weaver. That’s the earliest instance of the meme I could find — the series of events leading up to the slaps’ emergence online in the middle of 2015 is not clear.
The next month, on September 12, 2015, a Vine user known as “9/11 Did Bush” uploaded a version of the GameCube start-up jingle, with the percussive two-handed spank in place of the final note. It’s a simple, unexpected video punch line that has, nearly two years later, racked up more than 58 million loops.
The Spider-Man Ass Slap soon became a quintessential video meme on Vine and YouTube. Its humor was easy to understand, it was just the slightest bit inappropriate, and the trend’s unclear origins added a light mystery to the proceedings. That mystery didn’t last long, however, as users on Tumblr traced the Peter-on-Parker action to a clip from PornHub uploaded four years ago. The comments on “SPIDER SEX” (link NSFW, obviously) and its 715,000-plus views reflect the clip’s viral past.
The rabbit hole goes deeper, as the PornHub clip itself carries a watermark for RedTube, another streaming-porn service. On March 2012, more than five years ago, “Spiderman and his tattooed clone” was uploaded. Yet the RedTube clip — the earliest I could find — is about four minutes shorter than the PornHub version. There are other versions of the Spider-Man spandex porn out there, somewhere.
As Psy-Cloned went viral, its originator continued his life totally unaware. A self-described “total Luddite,” the 50-year-old Naylor said over the phone that he was a bit bewildered by my attempts to track him down. “I had to have a friend of mine explain to me what viral meant,” he said. “I don’t understand the concept.”
But understanding the mysterious ways of the web has never stopped something from going inexplicably viral before. And like most fodder, Psy-Cloned came from humble beginnings. “In the early 2000s,” Naylor recalled, “it was pretty much that I wanted to make movies. And believe it or not, it was easier to make porn movies than it was to make legitimate movies. Each one was just born out of ‘Hey, I haven’t made this yet’ or ‘I haven’t made that yet.’ I was just coming up with different ideas on how superheroes would get into trouble and get into some sort of compromised position.”
The now-iconic spanking, in particular, came from the actors. “I don’t encourage spanking [in my films],” he said. “It’s something, yes, that I like, but all my guys, all my friends who were in my movies, they’re big spankers. That was always a part of them.”
As the Spider-Man porn went viral, more and more meme-smiths jumped onboard the sexy Spider-Man train. Among them was BuzzFeed employee Ellie Sunakawa, one of the few people to earn a living spinning Spider-Man porn into viral gold. Working on BFF, BuzzFeed’s distributed-content team, “I would just log on and monitor different trends and things that were happening that day, Vines that were on the rise.”
9/11 Did Bush’s GameCube Vine got the wheels turning. “Vine is all about remixing, recycling culture,” Sunakawa said, “and I just wanted to make one of my own. One of the first ones that I made was this Bruno Mars one.”
“You know that that one beat is gonna be there at the end, and then it’s not — it’s the Spider-Man slap, which is what makes it so funny.”
For the record, Naylor and his crew know that the scene is kind of absurd. “Anytime we were doing the superhero stuff,” Naylor remembered, “the guys were always cracking. It was very difficult for them to keep straight faces and focus on what it is they were supposed to be doing. It was just fun.”
Despite making “zero out of any of this,” Naylor sounded thrilled to hear that his low-budget porno had taken on a life of its own. “I think that’s so cool, taking someone’s idea and expanding upon it. Or making something new out of it. That’s totally awesome.”