Gimmicks are one of the major draws in professional wrestling and sports entertainment. If a character can come across as engaging and draw fans in, that’s a big step in building someone that a promotion can leverage for revenue. Unfortunately, professional wrestling has been marred with decision-makers who are often disconnected from what fans want to see from the personalities on television. Joe Gacy’s gimmick on WWE NXT is an example of such and it’s not hard to see why his presentation has turned so many people off.
Joe Gacy has shown himself to be a phenomenal performer. He’s had successful runs across multiple organizations such as CZW, EVOLVE, MCW, and others. Along the way, he’s picked up title after title, so it’s understandable why fans were excited when it was announced that he signed with the WWE in 2020.
Yet, his debut of a new gimmick in September of 2021 immediately raised eyebrows. Gacy took to the ring with a smile on his face, speaking in slow tones using terms such as “woke,” “cancel culture,” and “safe space.” Some took this new politically correct character as a joke, making light of the constant social media outrage that flows throughout our online society, both within Wrestling Twitter and beyond.
Then there’s the other side of the coin that comes into play when you take into account creative leadership within the WWE and its long history of problematic characters and storylines. What makes Gacy’s character so frustrating for many is that it’s a clear attempt to make light of the terms and movements that were meant to bring awareness to the struggles of marginalized peoples. Look at how the same terms that Gacy is using in his promos are currently being weaponized by politicians and media members throughout the United States to denigrate anyone or anything within the social justice space. There’s a reason individuals like Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have such a level of disgust in their voice when they say words like “woke,” “cancel culture,” or anything else meant to highlight the plight of minorities.
Therefore, there’s a contingent of people who roll their eyes whenever Gacy is on the television. Similar to whenever Dan Lambert is on television in AEW. It isn’t a hate of his character that translates into wanting to spend time or money to see him get beat. Instead, it’s a subtle reminder that there’s always going to be a segment of professional wrestling that will attempt to pull out the welcome mat for some groups of people. It’s even worse considering the introduction of Harland and how this appears awfully close to a radicalization angle that one could see all across media including John Singleton’s 1995 cult classic, Higher Learning.
One has to wonder what exactly the minds behind this gimmick are attempting to make light of. When looking at the problematic history of WWE and professional wrestling as a whole, it’s not a far trek to the idea that Gacy’s gimmick is making fun of the marginalized peoples those terms are meant to build awareness around. Yet another example of co-opting a narrative, but the pro wrestling edition.