It seemed like a scene out of any suburban household in America, but on that fateful morning on December 8th, 2015, something very unexpected happened; history was made. Far from a serene religious icon appearing before an unsuspecting onlooker, this was something more –obscure. Removing the lid off her new, unopened tub of ‘Earth Origins Organic Spread’, Jan Castellano unveiled the face of front-running Republican candidate, Donald Trump. The image, people, are calling the Trump butter, appeared to be unapologetically yelling back at her, or so it would seem. Dumbfounded, she knew right away who this was, but why was it there? It took a few minutes for the image to sink in, was it him? Was this some peculiar happenstance, an act of serendipity, or perhaps a more foreboding, inauspicious omen?
A day unlike any other for this Wildwood, Missouri native, her early morning ritual consisted of a hearty breakfast, buttered toast and a warm cup of coffee. Unsuspecting to Castellano, was the discovery that would ignite a buzzing, sensationalist search engine firestorm; the keywords being butter and Trump. Her newly purchased, un-opened tub of hydrogenated vegetable fat with artificial butter-infused taste sat unassumingly inside her fridge, harbouring the surprising character that Jan would most definitely be taken aback by.
“It was a brand new tub,” Castellano told the local NBC affiliate in Missouri. “It was just staring right back at me.” After the initial shock had subsided, Jan debated on what to do with the artifact. Maybe the Trump butter could score a pretty penny. She entertained the thought of selling it on eBay and fetching a hefty price for the tub, like the now infamous “Virgin Mary toast” which sold to a Las Vegas collector for $28, 000. Far from a religious icon, though, Donald is something else entirely. For some, his apparition may serve to signal something more significant than just himself. Perhaps his appearance is the result of psychological interpretation and nothing more, or maybe its roots are more esoteric in nature. Perhaps it is an omen, whether favourable or otherwise has yet to be seen.
Pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon in which the mind is stimulated by recognizing familiar structures or patterns where none exist, is perhaps just as much a cultural phenomenon as a psychological one. The effects are widespread; symptoms can come on suddenly, and there is no known cure; such as when you see a three-pronged outlet, and it starts looking like a funny little face with slit eyes and an opened mouth. Broadly speaking, pareidolia is a form of a circumstantial apparition that reflects an inherent human need to construct images from things we find familiar, something we learned early on in our development. “The mind just sees what it wants to see, to me, it looks like a baby,” Said the NBC reporter.
For the sceptics, the butter that closely resembles Donald Trump’s face could simply be a mechanical coincidence, part of the consequence of industrial production, nonetheless humorous and thoroughly entertaining. But what if it is not?
For psychological enthusiasts, the concept of this so-called apparition may be seen as the pareidolia of mass delusion; a sort of Rorschach test. Is this a splotch of ink or Donald Trump mid-sentence at one of his rallies? Regardless, the tub offers a reflection on the current vanguard of the political air and undoubtedly provides a literal depiction of the supple nature of the collective imagination connecting us as human (read American).
Perhaps what we see as a gaping mouth is simply part of what we have come to know as the man’s rhetoric and facial posturing. Perhaps what is going on is that we secretly want to see Donald’s face unapologetically resembling the contents of a tub of butter. As a result, we are willing to indulge the delusion. Regardless, ask anyone and they will tell you that, yes, the tub of butter does have an uncanny resemblance to the front-runner Republican candidate, Donald Trump.
So what is afoot here? Could there be something deeper at work? Could this be something more profound and deeply entrenched? Something possibly, shall I say, spiritual? Enthusiasts at Donald trump rallies have likened the mood to a religious experience. Describing the event as a truly unique movement sweeping the country and the world, for that matter, or so they are so enthusiastically willing to say to anyone who will listen. In any case, all articles on the infamous tub seem to touch lightly on the idea. In a nation with strong beliefs in the supernatural existence of the divine (intervention), is this more likely to happen? Or is there simply more butter in America and thus better chances of the image appearing here? Why now? Why here in this corner of the American mid-west?
This leads us to the third possibility of what is occurring in this tub of ‘Earth Origins Organic Spread’. Which by the way is not even butter, but is a butter-like substitute made from hydrogenized vegetable oil (which undergoes a rigorous industrial process to resemble actual ‘butter’). It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this tub itself is an impostor, the whole idea of fake butter if you think about it, seems, well, like a willing impostor masquerading as the real thing --a lactose deficient fraud willing to indulge a ravenous audience with the mirage of real butter. The taste is there so why not believe it? Deception is the main ingredient in mass delusion and the kind of thing elections and phony, prophetic messiahs, which are more common in America than in other places in the world, thrive upon.
If so, could this possibly be the end-times? Is his face a marker for something more insidious? Or is the hype the anointed product of an over-stimulated public whose imagination is teetering on delirium? A mechanical coincidence or not, the idea is compelling; a homemaker with a smartphone and a tub of butter on the vanguard and a society on the cusp of something big. We are not questioning the credibility of Jan or the tub and its intentions, we are just saying that at this moment, in the year of a presidential election, everything is up in the air. Why this tub? Why this year? Why his face? Is there a tub out there with David Kucinich’s face no one is talking about? Is this a sign? Maybe the Big Guy is having a good chuckle about it right now.
In cases of superstitious apparitions, the nature of the image usually relates to the place and the state of the consciousness of the people around where the apparition occurred. Through a superstitious perspective, Donald Trump’s image and presence could have transcended psychical matter to become part of the ethereal. Part divine but still bound to this physical world. His face donating a divine touch to make non-believers believe in the ‘chosen one’, or, maybe not.
“He has such weird expressions. He’s so animated—whether he’s angry or whether he’s trying to make a point. All the cameras seem to capture him with his mouth kind of open and his eyes scrunched,” Castellano said in her interview with NBC Missouri.
Without the hyper inflated posturing and ego driven rhetoric that elections have a tendency to create, as a society, are we reaching? As a phenomenon with deeper implications, is this the sign America needed to question the nature of its own rhetoric? Probably not, but perhaps it demonstrates the characteristics of a modern culture, where even a tub of butter gets its 15 minutes of fame (as defined by the philosophies of Andy Warhol). In any case, this is a cultural phenomenon.
On the other hand, can this truly be something more than just what we see and hear, something in the structure of human consciousness? Is this the ultimate revelation of the American political experiment? Some sceptics on both sides of the political establishment, the conservative as well as the liberal, would like us to believe that it, in fact, is. For the rest of us the truth may just be in the pudding, or in this case the butter.
Perhaps the discernment of Trump’s face in a tub of butter is purely up to psychological interpretation, happenstance, a product of mass hysteria, or maybe a combination of a little of all three. Far from the Virgin Mary appearing on a piece of French toast, Donald is no saint and admittedly so. A prophetic message from the unseen worlds or the by-product of psychological extrapolation; the choice is not up to us entirely, but up to our unique brain patterns and beliefs. In any case, “he’s everywhere and now he’s in my food products,” Castellano said. “Maybe I’ll buy the real butter. I’ll start buying sticks so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.” The sleepless nights questioning physical reality, lactose-free fat substitutes, America and its politics, and the endless possible jokes about fatty content, have mounted to a spiritual and psychological crisis from which we can only blame the Trump butter. Perhaps Jan is right, maybe we should just stick to sticks from now on, or maybe we should all just lay off the fat, so to speak.