What Are You Doing After the Orgy? Or Does the Consumer Really Behave (&Quot;Well&Quot;)?


Ahmet Suerdem (1992) ,"What Are You Doing After the Orgy? Or Does the Consumer Really Behave (&Quot;Well&Quot;)?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 207-212.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 207-212


Ahmet Suerdem, University of California, Irvine; Mimar Sinan University, Turkey

"In the middle of the revelries, a man whispers into the woman's ear: What are you doing after the orgy?" (Baudrillard 1990)

In his "Cool Memories" on America, the French writer Jean Baudrillard discusses through his anectodes some of the problems that contemporary societies of mass consumption are facing: In an endless schema of frustration/gratification, is human desire kidnapped and turned into a hostage without exchange? Aren't we sacrificing something through the model of affluent society in which we are trapped in a vicious cycle of coping up with the others? Isn't our obsession to compare our desires with those of the others reducing the ambivalent character of it to a "natural" and "naked" state so that our only pleasure resides in the act of watching? Isn't this commensurate spectacle leading to the impoverishment of the ambivalent character of human desire? Or better, is ambivalent symbolism itself becoming a parody through the system of signs of social standing as an only way of existing in the society? Are the orgies, feasts, potlatches, in short, ecstatic states of mind where the people could forget their self consciousness and transgress the limits of reason in order to be a part of the other, becoming a simple pornography, a simulacrum, a hyperreality, a reality more real than real? Are our irrational passions continously captured and programmed into a hyperrational order? Are we living in a permanent state of surveilled dream?

The first aim of this presentation is to try to investigate the philosophical origins of our obssession to "discover" the human desire and to "colonize" it by turning it into "needs" and "wants". Secondly, I will try to discuss how these "discoveries" and their utilization in their attempt to "educate" people are implicated in the modern societies. Last but not least, I will try to question the "success" of these implications in the process of disciplining the behavior of the consumer and shape the discipline of "consumer behavior". Can we get a "well behaving" function of consumer behavior and does the consumer behave "well" as presupposed by the consumer researchers and mass-media?


The colonization of passion by reason finds its philosophical origins in Socrates and Plato. Pre-Socratic mythological thought is a game of passions, emotions, imaginations, as well as a system of measured reason. Aesthetics and Ethics are not universalized in mythological Pantheon: each of the Gods and demi-Gods represent a part of the excellence and the weakness of human existence trying to find its way through the misty aura of the cosmos. Mythology is a magical dramatization of everyday events, it represents the imaginative appeal of instantenous, miraculous and capricious rythm and harmony of the cosmos (Beckman 1979; Richard 1982).

According to Socrates and his succesors, virtue is obedience to reason considered as the right use of the mind. Passion distorts reasoning; it is evil. The mind free from passions is a citadel- a refuge for men who desire. Desire must be subjected to reason:

"Wipe out imagination; check desire; extinguish appetite; keep the ruling faculty in its own power" (Marcus Aurelius in Dawson 1924, pp: 86)

Good man puts himself under the control of intellectual reasoning. The source of all the evil is ignorance. Whoever commits error in the choice of pleasure and pain -that is, good and evil- commits it through the lack of knowledge; knowledge of what eternally exists: science. Science is the basic of ethics because it searches for the divine order of what really exists. The opinions are immoral because they deal with the changing facts, appearances. Facts are not true in themselves, they must be refered to the harmony, which is the mathesis, the order of orders. We can reach scientific knowledge by the education of desire; by the subjugation of desire to the disinterested,and sublimated knowledge in search of eternal truth (Cristaudo 1991).

The real object of science is knowing the necessities which are indexed in the universal order. Logical intelligence is the faculty of thinking the necessities in terms of universal harmony. It is the guide which illuminates our everyday life distorted by passions. The right and duty of the citizens is to know the necessities of every day life, production and consumption, that is, the universal law and order of existence. And one should always keep in mind the "real" necessities during the consumption act (Ostenfeld 1987, Dawson 1924):

"In things that concern the body accept only so far as the bare need -as in food, drink, clothing, habitation, servants (!). But all that makes for glory or luxury thou must utterly proscribe" (Socrates, Encheiridon xxxiii, in Dawson 1924, pp: 64)

In his famous trial, Socrates was accused, by Alcibiades, of being hypocrite by means of an excellent mastering of words in order to justify his passions. Maybe he was right when we consider Socrates' interest in "servants" as a bare need !

Passing through canonical monotheistic religions, subjugation of passion to reason finds its ultimate expression in Cartesian thought. According to Descartes, nature is a pre-set divine order and god gave us the reason as an instrument of understanding it for the general interest of the mankind. Freedom is the understanding of the divine order of things; the will must follow this order. The more one is inclined toward natural order, the more free he is (Cristaudo 1991).

Nevertheless, man is not only a rationally thinking being; he is an animal machine who lives without the permission of thought. Our passions are generated not from our opinions but from the involuntary movements of human body. They are not good or bad in themselves, but a part of human nature. Hence, desire must be recognized as need in order to be under the control of the reason to promote the general welfare of the mankind.

Another tendency of modern rationalism is represented by Friedrich Hegel (Grumley 1989). According to Hegel, nature itself is a self-realizing consciousness. It is a moment in the accomplishment of the absolute reason- Spirit. In this sense, consciousness of the individual can not realize itself through the knowledge of existing natural facts which themselves are the alienated singular moments of Universal Spirit. Freedom is not only knowing the necessities but also changing them toward the self-realization of the finality of the History.

Hegel (Richard 1980) considers desire as the motivation for passion; the opposite of Spirit. Passion is the particular, multiple, it does not envisage the unity but diversity. Desire ties the man to his body by detouring him from the search of absolute knowledge which should be his real aim. Desire opposes the will to realize the universal reason because it is determined by particular needs. Passion is a "pathos", a sufferance which turns life into destiny instead of driving the subject to the quest of freedom.


The extension of these two tendencies of modernity in terms of social and economic explanations of human behavior manifests itself in utilitarian (Cartesian) and Marxist (Hegelian) theories. For the first one, human being is a rational being with unlimited needs and wants who has to act in an environment determined by scarce resources. Although needs and wants are unlimited, they are not ambivalent: they are commensurate according to the different levels of utility gained from their satisfaction.

Thus, freedom is full information of what is available; at what cost; and the ability to compare different levels of utility which would be obtained from the satisfaction of wants. Individual has a preference, he knows what he wants; he is capable of consistently ordering his wants from most prefered to less preferred; and he will choose from within this ordering in such a way to maximize his satisfaction (Bohm-Bawerk 1949, McKenzie 1976).

Talcott Parsons (Parsons 1964) extends the utilitarian theory to a social system basis. According to Parsons, the motivation for human behavior is not the pure self-interest. Economic rationality is not a psychological generalization but a value system appropriate to the social system. The goal of the economy is not simply the production of income of an aggregate of individuals. Besides, the reproduction of the social system as a complex whole of institutionalized value patterns is the essential mechanism of the social system. The first functional imperative of the social system is to maintain the integrity of that value system and its institutionalization. In this sense, households, universities, units of government, churches etc., are in the economy (Parsons 1956).

Freud introduces a new dimension to the concept of desire as a motivating force of human activities: the satisfaction of primary needs such as food, shelter, clothing, etc., is more or less immediate. Desire realizes itself and consumes its realization spontaneously. Nevertheless, this is not true for sexual instinct (libido). Desire stays latent in the unconscious because of the repression of the immediate consumption. This causes a state of frustration and the missing object of desire is replaced by symbolic objects. Desire, which is sexual in nature, transforms itself into a need for these objects. The "pleasure principle" replaces itself with the reality principle: man learns to give up momentary, uncertain, frustrating pleasure for delayed, restrained but "assured" pleasure (Marcuse 1966, Freud 1970).

The discourse on consumption shifts its axis from the principle of "lack" to the principle of "abundance" during the post-second world war period: The organization of the society becomes so complex that the "homo economicus" can no more decide on what is "good" and what is "bad" without the help of educators. This is a dangerous affair however: who would decide about the "realness", "essentiality" of the needs which the consumer is not aware of? There comes our old friend "science" who is accustommed to operate always together with the morality since Socrates. It seems that science and morality are not satisfied by the colonization of the nature outside the "human subject", now they are here for the discovery of what is inside the man. Motivation research was their first galley in their conquest of the dark waters of the non-rational and they are finding more and more complex vehicles. "Conquistodares" continue to colonize the world and their missionary is the mass media.

Of course some old fashioned moralists did not wait to criticize this situation: the motivational analyst and symbol manipulator pooling their talents and millions of dollars at their disposal, were making a fascinating and at times disturbing team. They were shaping the minds by using the occult influences (Packard 1957).

Ernest Dichter comforts: there is nothing to be afraid of. Motivation research is only in the quest of human behavior. Human desire is the raw material it is working with. Human progress is a conquest of the animal within us. The strategy of human desire is the tool of shaping the human factor. No conquest is possible without strategy !

Human behavior can not be explained merely by the rational, conscious acts. Our daily decisions are governed by motivations over which we have no control and of which we are often quite unaware. Modern communication makes the use of emotional appeals in addition to rational ones in order to sway people. Very few products have purely utilitarian aspects. Motivation research only helps us to achieve a number of deeper psychological goals. Why should we try to repress them? What we need is a new freedom - the freedom to think in new channels. Motivational research is the application of social science techniques to the problems of human motivation (Dichter 1960).

The Hegelian extension of modernity as a socio-economic system manifests itself in Marxism. According to Marxism, classical and neo-classical economic theories reflect an alienated reality. The concepts of utility and exchange value which are taken for granted by these economists are in fact historically determined and socio-economic processes. The scientific method can not restrict itself only to the understanding of the immediate reality but has to operate in order to change it towards the laws of motion of the history.

According to Marxists (Mandel 1969), man is estranged to nature through his act of production. In primitive societies where the division of labor is not developed, men produce use values for their immediate satisfaction. Nevertheless, with the development of division of labor, men begin to produce commodities for exchange. Exchange value becomes a mediator between man and man whereas use value is the mediator between man and nature. This process of objectification turns into a process of alienation; man becomes alienated to the product of his labor.

Total alienation occurs with the generalized commodity production, where the private property of means of production deprives the laborer from his direct labor act. Concrete labor becomes subjugated to the exchange value, the abstract quantity of social labor. This subjugation implies the commodification of labor as labor power. Alienated labor becomes the only mediator for social exchange. Society loses the control of social relations created by itself. Commodity fetishism occults the market relations as a product of human activities and makes people believe that the laws of market are natural laws. During this process of production for pure exchange, the capitalist speculates on creating a new need in another so as to drive him to a fresh sacrifice, to place new independence:

"Subjectively, the extension of products and needs becomes a contriving and overcalculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites".(Marx cited in Mandel 1973 pp: 36)

The only possibility of overcoming this distorted reality is the action of historical subject armed with critique.

Criticism has its origins in Post-Socratic philosophy as its cousin positivism. It is the art of explaining the phenomena which are "veiled" by images, appearances. Considered as one of the essential activities of reason, critique opens the way for the rational subject through all spheres of life to make them accessible. In monotheistic religions, it is a way of interpreting the "signs" in order to justify the supremacy of the "word", "scripture", "the holy book".

In this context, critique is the instrument of reason to reflect on the "objectivity" of the objects of experience. On the other hand, dialectical critique distinguishes itself from the metaphysical critique in the sense that it aims to change the conditions of what is considered to be false or distorted consciousness. It claims to render transparent what had been previously hidden in order to initiate a process of self-reflection to achieve a liberation from the dominations of past constraints.

In its vulgar forms, marxist critique observes the liberation from the alienation in ex-socialist countries (alas !). In these countries working class is not alienated to its labor because the private property of the means of production is abolished. Socialist state takes care of the "essential needs" (i.e. use value) and socialist man does not have "inhuman", "sophisticated", "unnatural", and "imaginary" appetites. Working individual in socialist countries is not alienated to his products; he constructs socialism through his production act: he is a "labor hero", a new man, who realizes his "unalienated desire" in making of history. Each magnificient dam built, each sputnik sent to space, each olympic medal won by an athlete belongs to the victory of the socialism in which each individual is involved as an organic member.

More subtle approaches of critical theory are represented by the Frankfurt School. Adorno and Horkheimer claim the replacement of practical reason by instrumental reason as a result of the developments in culture industry. The alienation caused by the commodity fetishism infiltrates into the consciousness of the working class through the commodification of culture by the leisure market. Since then the self realization of working class through its "praxis", its practice of labor to transform the world becomes a part of instrumental reason. Although the classes exist, there is no more possibility for class consciousness for working class. Public invades private, private invades public. It becomes difficult to make a distinction between the external suggestion and internal desire. The main principle of domination becomes manipulation of desire instead of repression. Hence, instrumental reason forms an impersonal system which becomes independent from all the members of the society, including those in the ruling positions. Either bourgeoisie or working class lose their position as subjects but turn into objects dominated by the technical rationality. Adorno and Horkheimer try to recover rational subject by means of a "negative dialectics", a criticism of commodified objects according to a sublimated art (Bottomore 1984).

Even in this subtle approach of Adorno and Horkheimer, reason as the realization of the universal ideals continues to colonize everyday life. Furthermore, they seem to share the same ideals with the "consumer researchers", in the sense of "educating" and "informing" people about their "true needs". They form a harmonious couple after all, where human boredom needs exigently self-cannibalizing novelties: critique and interpretation revolutionizes, consumer research rationalizes.


One of the first resistances to the reason oriented universalist modernity comes from Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche accuses Socrates of reducing philosophy to a discourse which tries to regulate passion for will to live into a unique, universal reality. Philosophy becomes serious , logical, clear and demonstrative with Socrates. Reason analyzes, dissects, systematizes, makes rigid what is hidden in deep. Nevertheless, interior life of man is an act of ambivalent passion rather than being an act of cold objective rationality. Desire is rooted in the life which gives us the will to live. It is the passion to exist. In this sense, it is not possible to rigidize it into the tracks of rationality. To live in harmony with cosmos does not mean to follow the tracks of an assumed universe but to feel the rythmes and pulses of the life. Thus, desire opposes knowledge when it does not accord with life. Desire is pathetique; in the sense of both suffering and sharing. It is the aspiration to deepen the life in our singularity and to be in accord with the flow of the cosmos (Deleuze 1983, Richard 1980).

Georges Bataille (Bataille 1985) pushes further Nietzsche's arguments. Bataille claims that rationalistic realism invades all domains of life with the development of modernity. Endless quest of reson to appropriate external forms into an organized system of words causes the impoverishment of human imagination: words order,but images evoke symbols. What strikes human eyes determines not only the knowledge of relations between various objects, but also a given and decisive state of mind. Therefore, it is not the rational signification of the symbols which make them important for human existence, but their irrational ambivalence.

Following this reasoning, Bataille points out that the rationalization of the human desire as necessities and regulating it in terms of a rational utility frame would be repressing it in order to maintain a certain order which is hypocritical and unjust. How can material utility be the main task of life, Bataille asks, since it is limited to the reproduction and conservation of whatever exists? Man is not only a calculating machine whose goal is to realize benefits, but also an emotional being which realizes itself in the symbolic sacrifice. Sacrifice is a mythical delirium from all selfish calculation and reserve. It signifies an ecstatic exit from the self, a desire to put one's body and mind entirely in a more or less violent state of expulsion. Sacrificial consumption is the elementary form of orgy, which has no other goal than the incorporation of irreducibly heterogenous elements (Bataille 1985).

Jean Baudrillard (Baudrillard 1970; 1983; 1990) develops similar arguments concerning symbolic exchange. In today's consumption societies symbolic exchange becomes a parody under system of signs of social standing. What we consume in consumption societies is the meaning of the signs. The signs transmitted by the mass media do not signify a meaning in themselves, but mobilize the collective imaginary to give them a signification. When everybody agrees on the meaning of the sign then it is consumed (consumated). Mass media is an infinite generator of signs without signification. Thus, the main principle of consumer society becomes non- difference through difference, normality through competition.

Mass psychology provokes the people to have what others do not have, but since everybody is doing the same thing, there begins a competition for the "ultimate model". When everybody has it then it is no more "ultimate" but "obsolete". Contrary to the puritan rationalism where the "model" is more or less stable, today's hyperrationalism has to consume its "model" in order to maintain its operation. Planned motivation takes the place of moral responsibility and extends the puritan morality to a hedonistic morality of self-fulfilment. The feeling of guilt after transgression replaces itself with the rationalization: in order to be normal, you have to change- you have to cope with others.

Language of the consumption society is the most impoverished of languages: full of signification and empty of meaning. This empty space is filled by the consumer researchers who always find and operationalize new motivations to replace the obsolete ones. There is no more fixed "human nature" or a referent for marketing. Unlike the modern establishment, there is no more a discourse of reality which serves as a fixed referent in the post- modernity; it is replaced by its simulacra. Social sciences invent new realities when the old ones are obsolete and diffuse them through mass- media: the invented reality becomes real through simulation; a reality more real than real; a hyperreality. In the simulative church where the researchers are the priests and the "deep motives" diffused by the media are the preachings, the masses depend on the mood of the consumer: they do not repress, they do not manipulate, but simply seduce the desire in order to turn it into new tracks of sign.

Thus, the system of consumption society does not reproduce itself according to total order and to the principle of production. Programmed chaos and "catastrophe" becomes the main principle of the system: the system must destroy its order in order to maintain the order. The main principle of this system cannot be power, because power produces the real, it perceives itself as real, immortal, eternal (with the aid of the theories which analyze it, even to criticize it.) Seduction is stronger than power: because it does not need a fixed reference; it is a reversible and mortal process.

Every body is not as pessimist as Baudrillard. According to Michel de Certeau (de Certeau 1984), most of the analyses of the consumer culture are concerned with the representations produced by an ordered system on the one hand, and the modes of consumer behavior adapting to these representations on the other hand. However, these analyses do not take into account what cultural consumer "makes" or "does" during this process of consumption and with the images represented to him/her.

Although de Certeau agrees with the theories of colonization of every aspect of life by systems of production, he goes further and observes a silent, non-violent resistance which survives in the domain of consumption. As the indigenous indians of South America under Spanish colonizers, who did not resist Christian missionaries but simply adopted the signs of Christianity and subverted them according to their own culture, today's consumers use and transform the meanings of the "products" which are imposed to them. The preachers, educators, popularizers of production may present and diffuse the "technologies" of "how to use" the signs- that is all they can do. They can not control the users since they do not resist and seem to accept these rules. They can act as engineers of the social mind, but this does not necessarily mean that they can fragment and construct it. The masses follow a different way of thinking which is too fugitive and ambivalent to be shaped by the strategies of the managers of the mind (de Certeau 1984).

Michel Maffesoli observes the renaissance of the mythological ecology in the post-modern object. Post-modern ethos does not constitute itself according to a historical project, but in a reappropriated nature, within a shared space, collective participation to the world of objects. We are witnessing a naturalization of culture and culturization of nature through post-modernity. Objects invade spirituality and spirituality invades the world of objects. Our megalopoles become jungles where different objects flow imprevisibly. Post-modern object becomes the "fetish", the "totem" where social body remembers itself. The invasion of the natural and social by the "reified" objects makes any attempt of a planned control by a manipulating subject very difficult. We begin to live in an aura weaved by mystical objects. The world of objects is no more mastered by anybody; post-modern object revenges by returning to ambivalent symbolism. It reenchants the world disenchanted by modernity.

Hence, Maffesoli does not observe a programmed system of objects in commodity fetishism. The order of post-modern object is rather like a kaleidescope which is a programmed uncertainty. It is a diffraction to the infinity. The nature of the post-modern object is not evolutionary, objects revolt against their programmed finality (either in the form of invisible hand or history); they re-evolutionize (in the sense of revolving) their order in order to subvert it. In each order, the "system of objects" has a different logic. It is a nature in a state of permanent creation through its degeneration, instead of an evolutionary nature where the strongest survives.

The masses do not converge toward a "standard package" through consumption but they diverge toward multiplicity. This gives rise to a more complex society which is fragmented and disseminated with a multiplicity of contradictory values instead of homogeneous and linear order of modernity. Post-modernity, like the Baroque, degenerates and regenerates different styles harmoniously through small details (Maffesoli 1990, 1988).

Gilles Lipovetsky (Lipovetsky 1987) criticizes the critiques of consumption society and mass culture and concludes that fashion is not a form of "soft neo-totalitarianism", "repressive tolerance" but on the contrary, the expansion of the public questioning, autonomization of public thought and the agent of individualist dynamic in its divers manifestations. In this sense, fashion is the ultimate phase in today's democratical societies. Lipovetsky also observes a "ruse of reason", a popular wisdom in the crazy orgy of mass culture: collective reason advances by the help of its opposite, the irrational heteronomy of the seduction. As in the rational city of the antiquity whose rationality was formed by a network of egoist passions, autonomous subjectivities develop themselves through seduction and ephemere, critical, realist consciousness develops itself through frivolousness in today's consumption societies.

Hence, with its ambivalent structure, today's individual constitutes and reconstitutes itself in the unordered order of generalized fashion. On the other hand, this unordered does not represent an ideal system, a best of the worlds but a possibility toward a more free, better informed society. Generalized fashion lives in paradoxes: its consciousness favors unconsciousness, its craziness the spirit of tolerance, its mimetism individuality, and its frivolity the respect of human rights.


We are living an explosion of the universalist reason and post-modern consumer does not behave totally reasonably. He/she lives in an emotional aura where the borders between the real and imaginary are blurred; maybe in a hyperreality where the ordered reality is replaced by its simulacra. The closed systems of thought which refer to economics, sexuality, politics etc., as the content of reality deconstruct themselves. The referentials come and go like comets in the sky making a general theory of consumer behavior ridiculous. Not only does the consumer behave according to the caprices of fashion; but also its "science". They interactively transform each other towards new fashions in a reversible, baroque cycle of seduction. In the 1950s consumer was "homo economicus; in the 60s he was "homo sexualis"; in the 70s he was "homo politicus"; in the 80s he was "Rambo"- "homo survivalis" with a manager's suit at the top and naked as a savage at the bottom- with an American Indian mother and a German father. In the 90s there is no reason for not to presuppose that he is becoming a "homo ecologicus". However, these cycles are not "trends". They do not assume a linear development which exclude one another. Rather, each cycle collapses onto and into the other squeezing the other layers to form colorful pieces of quartz.

Last but not least I would like to comment on our position as a social scientist, citizen and consumer in this changing world.Post-modernity gives an end to the the dichotomy of order and chaos. We are living in a jungle where order of chaos generates its colorfulness and its peril. It may turn into a joyful spectacle where different species enjoy to share the same ecosystem or a carnage where the stronger cannibalizes the other. Although we have renounced all "grand responsibilities" implied by a rational puritan morality; we need to develop "little respons-abilities", (ability to respond), responsibilities of cohabitation in everyday life depending on ethics of existence, a manner of being which would turn post-modern life into communion rather than cannibalism. Since we are con-damned to live in this jungle; since "we may have come with different boats or canoes, but today we are in the same boat" (Martin Luther King), we have to learn live together.. (After all ?) Hence, what are you doing after the orgy?


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Ahmet Suerdem, University of California, Irvine; Mimar Sinan University, Turkey


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19 | 1992

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