National identities are not a clear-cut affair: individuals can assume collective identities, which are also represented by their shared metaphors and images. In advertising, ‘imagined’ communities are mainly identified on the basis of symbols and dominant clichés that may increase emotional identification, thus contributing to the creation of cultural boundaries between Us and Others, between insiders and outsiders of one’s specific national community. Referring to Gerbner’s cultivation theory, we can say that in U.S. advertising the perceptual expectations of the audience seem to be not only cultivated, but reinforced. Stereotypes such as the clannish family and deli-food fixation, as well as the Mafia-themed scenarios, are over-used in the marketing of many goods to portray Italian Americans – the fifth largest ethnic grouping in the States. The need for simplification and diffusion plays a major role in creating unbalanced portrayals. The resulting knowledge asymmetries can be considered in the Foucauldian perspective of the all-pervading power/knowledge correlation. Through the analysis of a corpus of 100 U.S. ads – in the perspective of Evaluative Semantics and APPRAISAL – we aim to show how distant the real societal groups of people of Italian heritage can be from the frozen image of ‘advertised’ communities.
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