Volume 73, Number 5 | June 2 - 8, 2004


AT&T enters the avant-garde

By Andrei Codrescu

AT@T just went avant-garde with its ampersand campaign. Ads featuring “&” have done better than all past single-letter campaigns, including O. O had a big career, from the high-culture perch of the “less than zero” to Gen O, to the populist Big O, still highly desirable. Nor was the career of “X” negligible, from Gen X to the drug X to the many pharmaceuticals whose entire weight rests on the X, most notably Xanax. Very successful also was V whose chief exponent, Viagra, evokes simultaneously Virility and, visually, a pair of open legs. Other letters have had considerable careers in sales, such as T in abbreviations from Model T to tee-shirts, or in partnership with A in T&A. Architecturally, T could always be counted on to represent sturdy projects.

F and K have had good runs, too, though none as good as the FCUK clothing line, which capitalized on a peculiarity of the brain, which can unscramble any word if the first and last letter are correct. Try this: it deosn’t mttaer in what oreder the ltteers in a word are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteers are in the rghit pclae. See?

Every other letter in the alphabet can boast successes in one area or another, but some have more esoteric than commercial value. Take Alpha (A) and Omega (O), for instance, which have stood theologians and prophets in good stead for centuries. The English alphabet can be used as well as the Greek or the Hebrew to yield a welter of meanings for Bible-code and other paranoia aficionados.

In fact, the art of decoding language by using a single letter (or combinations) as keys, is ancient. The Kabbalah is the Jewish mystical operation to milk language for meaning. It’s no wonder that the Kabbalah is Hollywood’s most popular “faith” these days, including even such formerly loveable cynics as Madonna. Everyone in Hollywood thinks that they are among the elect and that a correct reading of the alphabet will reveal to them (and to the world) just how special they are. Oh, dear! They are all as special as the next ampersand. In the 1950s an avant-garde poet named Isidore Isou invented a form of poetry he called “lettrisme.” He never got a penny in royalties. The next big letter is U.

Codrescu’s new novel, “Wakefield,” is now in the stores. For a signed copy send $30 to P.O. Box 25051, Baton Rouge, LA, 70894


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