On July 11, 2011, Allie Hagan, a policy consultant at the Penn Hill Group in Washington, was indulging in her off-hours obsession: celebrity children.
She’d occasionally say “snappy little things” about these kids — you know who they are, the Blue Ivys and Apples and Shilohs of the world — on her Twitter page, dishing out one-liners in a tone that Hagan describes as “jokey, twinged with mean.” After seeing countless images of these photogenic 5-year-olds in itty-bitty Burberry trenches and ladybug Uggs, “you feel like you know them,” said Hagan, which she knows sounds bizarre, but which also sounds true.
While chatting online with a friend that day in July, Hagan was debating the likability of some celebrity spawn.
“I love Suri so much,” she wrote of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise’s 6-year-old daughter. “I just don’t like any of those Jolie-Pitts.”
Her friend said the Jolie-Pitts “are not very interesting.”
Hagan’s reply: “Omgggg that is exactly the kind of thing I want to post — honest truths about these privileged children. LIKE THAT THEY ARE BORING.”
And Suri’s Burn Book was born.
Suri’s Burn Book, named for the hot-pink tome that wrought so much wreckage on the popular Plastics clique in the 2004 film “Mean Girls,” is a blog that Hagan, a 25-year-old graduate of George Washington University (she received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in public policy from GW), writes from Suri’s perspective. She provides snarky, snobby criticism on Suri’s paparazzi-plagued peers. The blog is a self-proclaimed “study in Suri and the people who disappoint her.” The blog’s tagline: “Just because you don’t have a Ferragamo handbag doesn’t mean you can behave like a child. (I’m looking at you, Shiloh.)”
Suri’s Burn Book launched July 13. Three weeks later, the site was named one of Time magazine’s Tumblrs of the Week. In January, Hagan was approached by an agent and landed a book deal. The result, “Suri’s Burn Book: Well-Dressed Commentary From Hollywood’s Little Sweetheart,” is due out Sept. 4 from Running Press. The 120-page manifesto is “Suri’s guide” to famous families, with chapters devoted to royalty, fashion and Hollywood dynasties.
The blog pairs snapshots of celebrity broods with captions by Hagan-as-Suri. A picture of Holmes carrying Suri on her hip is accompanied by “Don’t worry about me. I make her carry me. These shoes cost more than her car.” Blue Ivy, held sans shoes by her dad Jay-Z, is critiqued with “Going barefoot in Paris is like showing up to the Oscars in a denim miniskirt. A frayed one.” A picture of Suri and her mom at an airport reads, “Fly commercial? You cannot be serious. I am too delicate for peasant travel.”
Hagan has a few ground rules. “I try not to make [the posts] just about appearance. I’m not going to call some kid’s face flat-out ugly. I try to make it about clothes and behavior.”
She also contends that she isn’t violating anyone’s privacy. “I’m really cynical about that,” she said, pointing out that plenty of very famous people — Julia Roberts, Tina Fey — have kids you couldn’t pick out of a lineup. Hagan’s goal, she says, isn’t to exploit. It’s to mock exploitation. “I’m trying to poke fun at how [their parents] trot them out,” she said.
When Cruise and Holmes got divorced, Hagan “was really scared” of posting something too harsh. “It’s easy to imagine [Suri] as this sassy little fashionista. But everyone knows at the end of the day that she’s a little girl whose parents are splitting up.” Hagan opted to write about it “less than people probably think I would” and stick to Suri’s modus operandi of finding her parents humiliating. “Tom Cruise jokes will always be funny,” Hagan said. “But I’d never make jokes about [Suri] wanting one parent over the other.”
“It becomes a weird train wreck,” she said, when fact collides with fiction.
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.
Suri’s Burn Book isn’t the first site to provide a voice to a famous face. Feminist Ryan Gosling, which combines feminist theory, charming come-ons and brooding shots of the movie star (sample text: “Hey girl, Gender is a social construct but everyone likes to cuddle.”) became so popular that Gosling himself wound up reading from its pages in interviews.
Danielle Henderson, creator of Feminist Ryan Gosling, said the sites resonate partly because they tap into a narrative we find plausible. “Suri’s a toddler, but toddlers are sassy and moody! And it’s funny to think someone would make them adult, sassy and moody. . . . [It’s the] same with Ryan Gosling. He doesn’t have a master’s degree in women’s studies, but it’s not totally far-fetched that he would appreciate women and knowledge in that way.”
Which is why it has to be Suri’s Burn Book, not Shiloh’s, say, or Harper Beckham’s, and why “I don’t think you’re going to see a Feminist Channing Tatum anytime soon,” Henderson said.
Clearly Suri’s Burn Book has found its following — 63,000 strong on Twitter and counting — of people who want to read clever writing, even about silly things. Besides, if everything we read about celebrities is made up anyway, why not read a witty take that admits to be fiction instead of the sycophantic copy in tabloids that masquerades as fact? “I know some people that say [Suri’s Burn Book] is the only celebrity blog they read,” Hagan said.
Although Hagan, who lives in Capitol Hill with her German shepherd mix, Freckles, has no plans to quit her day job and “wouldn’t imagine [Suri’s Burn Book] is going to last forever,” she doesn’t see a reason to stop yet. Not when there’s so much to look forward to, Hagan said. “I can’t wait to see Violet Affleck get braces.”
But Violet’s orthodontics are nothing compared with the holy grail of upcoming celebrity baby events: when Prince William and Kate Middleton produce an heir.
“I cannot wait for that day,” Hagan said. On the blog, Suri anticipates the birth with dread, panicked that she won’t be able to dominate her royal competition. “Suri is driving it, but Allie cannot wait.”
“God, I hope they have a girl,” Hagan added. “That’ll keep Suri’s Burn Book in business for a long time.”
Allie Hagan’s Tumblr blog, a self-proclaimed “study in Suri and the people who disappoint her,” pairs photos of celebrity kids with captions by Hagan-as-Suri Cruise. Hagan says her goal isn’t to exploit, but to mock exploitation.
Hagan-as-Suri asks: Why do the Jolie-Pitts all dress so boring? “For people as committed to multiculturalism as the Jolie-Pitts, they sure do like monochrome.”
Willow Smith is portrayed as Hagan-as-Suri’s most exhausting frenemy. “Suri” feels like Willow is a new-money child star being oversold by her parents, Will and Jada. The blog: “Willow Smith is just Rebecca Black with richer, more desperate parents.”
“Suri” wishes she could be part of the Beckham family — they’re all so fashionable and respectable and English. She sees Cruz as “the one that got away” and probably her soul mate. She says, “If we got married, his name would’ve been Cruz Cruise. Don’t even pretend like that’s not how that would go down.”