Billy Herrington

Chinese digital folklore is evidently shaped by linguistic communities and platform thresholds, and yet it would be a mistake to assume that its uniqueness equals insularity. Instead, the transnational circulation of content plays a central role in the emergence of new genres and repertoires. A striking example of this revolves around the person of Billy Herrington. A New York-born wrestler, body-builder and stripper, Herrington also acted in several same-sex adult movies, and in 2007 eventually found himself at the center of a Japanese fandom, who hailed him as gachimuchi ('buff man', 'beefcake') or, more affectionately, aniki ('older brother').

Remixes of gachimuchi videos posted on Japanese video website Nico Nico Douga fed into an entire mythology around Billy Herrington and other homoerotic wrestling performers, often purposefully misinterpreting their dialogue lines and creating absurdist catchphrases like "ass we can". Thrilled by this unexpected twist of his career, Billy started touring Japan for events and conventions since 2009, and eventually also visited his growing fanbase in Taiwan in 2012. The rise of Chinese video-sharing websites in the early 2010s helped gachimuchi content to also cross into the country – in the beginning, as direct reposts of Nico Nico mashups, and then as local versions produced by Chinese creators, who started referring to him as Bili Wang, or 'King Billy'.

In early 2013, Billy brought his personal show in China for the first time, signing up an agreement with a local promoter and endorsing products ranging from mobile videogames to virtual currencies. Over the following years, he toured across the country multiple times and became the protagonist of several 鬼畜 guichu videos (a local genre of fast-paced mashups) shared on Bilibili, a local video-sharing platform similar to Nico Nico Douga. His countless meetups with local fans – who vied to arm-wrestle Billy or being spanked by him on stage – are documented by the endearing videos he regularly posted on his Sina Weibo account.

Billy Herrington is recognized as one of the central characters of Chinese digital folklore in all the relevant wikis, one of which is entirely dedicated to zhe♂xue (or 'philo♂sophy'), the system of thought gleaned by gachimuchi fans from the source material dialogues. Gachimuchi culture is so connected to platforms like AcFun and Bilibili that these are also important repositories of the mythology around Billy and other adult movie actors like his eternal nemesis Van Darkholme. An unverified account of Billy visits to China claims that he thought Bilibili was, in fact, named after him.

Tragically, Billy Herrington passed away on March 2nd, 2018, after being involved in a car accident in California. The sad news traveled through his multiple fandoms, that outpoured grief and remembrance across platforms. In China, these included tribute videos pairing emotional moments from his videos and vlogs with traditional funeral music, or guichu mash-ups memorializing his classic moves over moving pop songs, encouraging fellow users to remember him: "So, philosphers, please don't forget this former King."

This brief history explains why one of the central figures of Chinese digital folklore is an American bodybuilder who starred in homoerotic adult videos, and why his likeness is still remembered by millions of Chinese users through catchphrases, animated stickers and remixed videos. Ass we can, King Billy.


金坷垃 Jīnkēlā | 金馆长 Jīn Guǎnzhǎng | 膜蛤 Móhá | Duāng | Billy Herrington