A train wreck is exactly the sort of thing that Stuart Fischoff, senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology, is concerned about. He thinks that the site is funny but that “there is a dark side.”
“The trouble is that it’s just part of a larger cultural phenomenon where anything goes and there’s no sense of privacy,” he said. “And the whole notion of, children can be exploited as well as their parents because they are the children of celebrities and therefore they inherit that celebrity.”
He doesn’t really buy Hagan’s justification for the site — that celebrities who want privacy can seek it out if they choose, that though we consume culture we aren’t complicit in creating it. “The only reason she’s justifying it is that she knows there’s something wrong with it.”
Fischoff believes our stalker-level treatment of celebrities will only get worse with time, unless tragedy shocks everyone back to kindness. “You’ll end up having a Lindbergh-type situation where some baby is kidnapped because some information was learned on social media about where this kid goes to school.”
Victor P. Corona, a sociologist at New York University, said people have gossiped about celebrities since time immemorial. But he said: “Let’s say an eighth-grader set up a humor site about his or her classmates. It would be perceived as bullying. It’s not a big leap. . . . Would it be different if [Suri’s] classmates were running the site?”
On a scale of “harmless” to “unconscionable,” Corona placed Suri’s Burn Book somewhere in between. “To her credit, it could be a lot meaner,” he said. “Of course, there’s a whole other level of discussion in terms of the photographs she uses, how invasive the paparazzi had been to put their cameras in front of children’s faces and sell the photos to sites that [Hagan] uses for her Tumblr.”
Hagan said, “I’m not interested in publicizing anything they don’t want publicized.” And she’s come to feel close to her fictional alter ego. “Once I put on the Suri hat, I feel like I know her.” She stopped to correct herself. “The character, not the person.”
But it’s that very distinction — or lack thereof — that makes the site so compelling. It operates on a shared perception of who we think Suri is: spoiled, condescending, cultured, sharp. Then again, Suri is a 6-year-old. It’s all a little strange.
Because we are standing with one foot in reality and the other in Us Weekly, even the most reasonable, unplugged, I-don’t-own-a-TV sort of adult can feel as if they have an understanding of who certain famous people really are.