Groups or Gangs

Living in Canada, I am as aware as anyone in the U.S. about the ongoing debates and discussions about the American debt ceiling.  Yesterday, David Wellna’s story on NPR was about the Gang of 6 who had released a proposal that seemed to have a lot of bipartisan support.  If you listen to the story, note that Senator Durbin actually refers to them as the group of 6.

The two words have significantly different meanings or at least create different feelings.  The Group of Seven, a bunch of Canadian artists, has a positive connotation.  Madame Mao’s Gang of Four was utterly unredeemable, except by a punk band taking on the name.

Groups are positive, potentially inclusive, but definitely working towards good ends.  Gangs, on the other hand, tend to be negative or at least have a power-orientation, a potential malevolence.  Labeling a group as a gang gives a news story a bit of an edge – and “Gang of 6” appears to be used by all news outlets; I don’t mean to pick on NPR – but it seems to be a misnomer.  In this situation, these 6 individuals provided leadership on a highly contentious issue that seems to have a lot of potential support.  Unlike a gang, they appear to have approached the issue without swinging whips to get their base into a lather, or to pipe histrionics into the Congressional Record.

None of which will stop the use of the gang label.  It’s too eye catching in an environment where news agencies are like people piled at the bottom of a well, trying to clamber over each other to get out.  Senator Durbin’s use of the label group really stood out in the story, though, and it reminded me how important labels can be to how we identify ourselves and how we identify others.