Why Giving WALTER The Name Of A Famous Nazi Highlights A Major Issue In WWE

Once again, WWE is at the center of controversy, but this time it appears to be due to ties of a Nazi commander. Now, WWE name changes are nothing new. Unfortunately, the company has a nasty little habit of making terrible name changes, though business-wise, it’s understandable that WWE wants to copyright and capitalize on the performer’s stage name and likeness. There was nothing wrong with WALTER, and it’s silly that the company decided to change his name nearly four years after his NXT UK debut. However, this article is not about the name change and there’s nothing particularly wrong about the company pulling this stunt. It’s the significance behind the name and what it truly means. On January 13th, it became public knowledge that WWE filed a trademark for Gunther Stark. It wasn’t clear at the time who the name was intended for until WALTER himself announced his name as Gunther following his win over Roderick Strong in NXT. There was an immediate backlash as a quick google search reveals that the name was based on a Nazi commander. The company abandoned the name on January 19th, and the former NXT UK Champion is simply referred to as Gunther. Here’s the thing, I can only speculate what the mindset that the company had originally as I have no proof that they knew or even understood the significance of the name. However, this is a publicly traded company, and it would be foolish if WWE didn’t even try to research the name first. Plus, WWE is strict when it comes to talent-sharing names. NXT already has a woman named Zooey Stark, a former NXT Women’s Tag Team Champion.

On the surface, it appears that WWE was trying to start a new foreign faction with strong German/Nazi ties. Again, this all speculation from me and I’m not accusing WWE of being racist or anything of that nature. However, I do believe that Vince McMahon and company have an old-school and damaging view on the way that they present their foreign heels. Wrestling companies are notorious for using the extremely outdated foreign heel gimmick that usually means that said person hates America. Even AEW tried to pull this stunt randomly with the Anthony Ogogo/Cody Rhodes rivalry last year. Obviously, the purpose of the foreign heel is to trash anything American and express love for their respective country. It’s an old-school gimmick to get easy heel heat. There are several notable problems with this gimmick. The first, it’s not the 40’s anymore. Audiences understand that not every foreign person hates America. Yet, WWE – the biggest wrestling company on the planet – is the biggest culprit for this stereotype. It wasn’t just one or two heels that played the foreign heel gimmick. It was everyone who was not from America. Granted, the company hasn’t been as bad as previous generations in regard to this gimmick, but it’s an old tactic that needs to be discarded immediately. There’s no nuance or layers to playing the foreign heel. Plus, logic goes out the window when you think about it. If a foreign hates America so much, why do they continue to live in a country they absolutely loathe?

However, it’s more than just a gimmick that’s the issue. It’s the clear xenophobic mindset that all foreigners hate America. I’m not calling Vince McMahon and company racists, in fact, I don’t feel that they are. I do feel that their worldview when it comes to other cultures is very narrow and short sighted. Were they really going to tie a Nazi gimmick just for some cheap heat? There’s nothing wrong with movies, television, or video games exploring these characters because we understand that it’s not realistic, but there’s usually some type of depth or nuance past “I hate America”. Plus, media has gotten better with foreign citizens not just being a religious nut. Of course, the other media has its own problems when it comes to most portrayals of foreign characters, but let’s stick with WWE here. It’s not just foreigns that are the issue in the company. Tony D’Angelo is playing a stereotypical Italian gangster, women are either catty, backstabbing sluts, and blacks are for the most part, thugs or thieves. I will commend the company for mostly moving past most of these stereotypes, but they do pop up every now and then. Its time do away with the foreign heel gimmick entirety. It’s a negative stereotype that just doesn’t work in 2022. There are different types of people in terms of personality and traits. I understand that these guys and girls are simply playing a character but it’s an outdated trope that desperately needs to go. It unnecessarily spreads xenophobia to impressionable young minds who don’t know that wrestling is scripted and creates hate for a culture based on some gimmick to get cheap heat. Don’t believe that modern audiences aren’t smart enough to know that these are people playing characters? Plenty of wrestlers have received death threats, one of the most recent including Ariya Daivari following a segment at the Greatest Royal Rumble in 2018. The Iranian athlete insulted the country of Saudi Arabia, which was met with negative backlash and death threats.

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