An 8-year-old boy from Minnesota reportedly appears up to 10 million times a day in Chinese social media thanks to his spot-on facial expressions.
Meet Gavin Thomas, whose face has become the icon of “polite reluctance” in China.
Gavin first drew the internet’s attention in 2014 with videos of him playing with his uncle, Nick Mastodon, who is also an online star.
A clip of him with a gecko on his head was a memorable hit, with many relating to his nervous looks.
Gavin’s face eventually made it to Chinese cyberspace, where he has since become the “fake smile boy.”
“I got to know him from the gifs other people sent me on WeChat,” 39-year-old employee Cai Qianyi told CNN. “I saved the gifs to use as they are so appropriate to express myself.”
Chinese netizens are referring to Gavin’s uneasy but polite smile, a signature meme used to express forced optimism in uncomfortable situations.
“If someone says something embarrassing, but you don’t want to shoot it down directly, the fake smile gif can convey your embarrassment while leaving a way out,” said 21-year-old student Leo Li. He described Gavin’s forced but polite smile as a “social lubricant.”
In July, Gavin opened an account on Weibo, where he has since amassed 1.8 million followers. In his first video, he told fans that he wanted to visit China one day.
“Hey guys, it’s Gavin here. Welcome to my page. One day I really want to go to China and meet you and take pictures with you,” China Daily quoted him as saying.
That dream came true in just a little over a month later, when Gavin scored a sponsored trip to Beijing. Fans reportedly swarmed his whereabouts.
Dressed like a little emperor, he first took photos at the Forbidden City. He then headed to Chengdu the next day to see pandas, CGTN noted.
Gavin’s team also opened a store in Taobao, selling various merchandise featuring the 8-year-old facial expressions.
And while these items could lose their allure as he grows up, his team is confident that fans will stay.
Gavin’s agent, Byron Austen Ashley, told CNN that they have prepared alternate strategies to showcase his “amazing personality” in the future.
“His dream is to be a YouTuber and he seems to be heading down the right path,” Ashley said.