Pop-Ed: Violet Chachki

Pop-Ed: Violet Chachki

In our new column, Digital Editor Mathias Rosenzweig writes portraits of individuals who've shifted popular culture as we know it today.

In our new column, Digital Editor Mathias Rosenzweig writes portraits of individuals who've shifted popular culture as we know it today.

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

Violet Chachki (née Jason Dardo) derived the first half of her stage name from the protagonist of 'Bound'. In the ‘90s crime thriller, Violet (Jennifer Tilly), the girlfriend of a mafioso named Caesar, falls in love with their female next-door neighbor, Corky. The girls set out to steal $2 million from Violet’s boyfriend, navigating a plotline brimming with violence, deception, and female camaraderie strong enough to thrash an unlawful patriarchy beyond even the police’s control. Chachki, on the other hand, stems from the Yiddish word “Tchotchke,” which describes trinkets or objects that are purely decoration. Within her name alone, 25-year-old Chachki touches upon the duality of the modern drag queen, an identity that reinterprets and exaggerates notions of glamour, beauty, and sometimes ugliness. It's also become an increasingly popular weapon against heteronormativity.

“I’m not a social justice warrior—that was never my goal, to be a political figurehead,” Chachki tells me over the phone, touching upon the accidental nature of it all. She identifies as gender-fluid and became relatively mainstream after winning the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a feat that catapulted her into an unexpected level of fame. I’ve seen little enough of the show to be deemed a “bad gay” by friends, but enough to know Chachki, who's become big enough to make a dent in gender roles within pop culture.

I’m hesitant at first to bring up how being a drag queen makes Chachki a politically-charged figure. Today, anyone with a substantial following (1.2 million, in her case) has the power to persuade or dissuade a particular mass of people when it comes to various issues; the pressure is magnified when you're a minority whose human rights and very existence continue to be challenged across the globe. But Chachki’s at peace with her creativity bordering on social commentary. She doesn’t mean for her art to be political, but her very being is a bit of a rebellion, and that’s inextricable from her imagination. “I don’t like to be super, super vocal,” she says. “I just take up space and show people that this exists, that this is out there and that they’re going to have to deal with it.”

This is particularly clear in her new music video for “A Lot More Me”, directed by Love Bailey. The video's for a track in which Chachki sings about using rich men for their resources but hoping to wake up in the morning alone, able to enjoy whatever goods she acquired in solitude.  Visually, it’s a melting pot of hyperreal touring imagery—fetish hotels, private jets, kitsch diners—and the surreal, dreamlike world of being on stage in drag. We see the concierge stumbling over her words when determining whether to call Chachki “Sir, Ma’am…Sir Ma’am,” etc. Later, a mustached date asks Chachki if he himself is gay for liking drag queens, to which she replies: “I’ll let you know.”

“I perform in theaters, international stages with people screaming for me, and then I go back to my hotel room, take all my makeup off, and I’m alone,” she shares. As a non-famous person, I wonder if her reality still borders on fantasy, even when she’s companionless (and far from her fans) in interchangeable, international hotel rooms she can’t quite call home. “My reality has now become surreal in that I’m working with people I never thought I could work with, and am doing things I never thought I could be, or touring the world and seeing places I never thought I’d be seeing,” she says. “It took me at least a year and a half to get used to the pace of my new life and what that’s like. Getting success really quickly—overnight success—it’s a bit jarring at first, for sure, to transition into that.”

The video, which is intended to illustrate a fantastical version of life for a queer artist on the road, is slightly less harrowing than the reality of it. “I’ve traveled to the most glamorous places in the world, the biggest capitals of culture, and I’ve traveled to the biggest fuddy-duddy, slum life nowheresvilles…so I’ve seen a ton of stuff. I’ve been physically attacked at a McDonald’s in Perth, Australia, in full drag. There have been so many instances.” We glide over “Chachkigate,” an incident last September that involved a Parisian nightclub in the city’s typically gay neighborhood allegedly kicking Chachki out for not being masculine enough.

But regardless, the show must go on. Chachki is a performance artist, at the end of the day. Gender in itself is an act, in most regards, in which we’re reciting lines and following steps handed to us by society-at-large, being reprimanded when we step out of character and applauded when compliant. At times we’re the desperate performers, and others, the tough audience. The pointlessness of it—“it” being a charade born from fear, ignorance, and insecurity—is comical, really, which is what drag performers like Chachki touch on. Ultimately, she is making fun of us, of herself, of our nonsensical expectations of one another, by creating exaggerated versions of what we all are: gender performers. As RuPaul once tweeted, “Ego loves identity. Drag mocks identity. Ego hates drag.”

So yes, Violet is indeed a tchotchke, like a decorative piece that’s easy on the eyes and warming to the heart. But since she’s doing what she wants to live freely and make good money, perhaps challenging gender roles along the way, she’s a lot like her namesake from Bound, whose abusive boyfriend says he knows she won’t hurt him before she turns to him with a gun and says, “Caesar, you don’t know shit.”

By: Silly Papapeaches

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