On July 11, 2011, Allie Hagan, a policy consultant at the Penn Hill Group in Washington, D.C., 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, 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."
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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, 25, a graduate of George Washington University (she received undergraduate and master's degrees in public policy), 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, was due out Tuesday 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."
But clearly Suri's Burn Book has found its following — 63,000 strong on Twitter and counting — among 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.