The name Zoë Roth may not ring any bells. But chances are you’ve seen her photo.
One Saturday morning in 2005, when Ms. Roth was 4 years old, her family went to look at a burned house in their neighborhood in Mebane, the NC Fire Force intentionally burned the fire into a controlled fire. So it’s a good deal: Neighbors gathered and the firefighter allowed the children to take turns holding the hose.
Ms. Roth recalls watching the fire engulf the house when her father, an amateur photographer, asked her to smile. With her messy hair and knowing gaze, Miss Roth showed an evil smile as flames exploded behind her. “Disaster girl” is born.
In the years since Dave Roth, Zoë’s father, entered the photo contest in 2007 and won, the photo has been edited into various historical catastrophes, with Ms. Roth grinning at the meteorite wipe out dinosaurs or Titanic ships sinking in the distance. Now, after more than a decade of her image being relentlessly reused as an important part of the meme canon, Ms. Roth has sold the original copy of her meme as an indelible token, or NFT, for almost half a million dollars.
Meme was sold for 180 Ether, a form of cryptocurrency, during an auction on April 17 for a user identified as @ 3FMusic. As with any currency, the value of Ether fluctuates, but as of Thursday, 180 Ether is valued at more than $ 495,000. Roths holds the copyright and will receive 10 percent of future revenue.
The ownership market for digital arts, cremation and media known as NFTs, is booming. All NFTs, including the “Disaster Girl” meme that Ms. Roth just sold, are stamped with a single digital code that marks their authenticity and is stored on the blockchain, a system. The distributed ledger forms the basis for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
In the hall of fame, “The Girl of Disaster” lined up with “Ermahgerd”, a braided teenage girl posing with the books “Goosebumps”; “Bad Luck Brian,” becomes immortal in a frowning yearbook photo with braces; and “Child Success,” a toddler on the beach with clenched fists and an expression of high determination.
In an interview, Ms. Roth said the meme sale was a way for her to control a situation in which she felt powerless since elementary school.
Before deciding to sell, Ms. Roth personally consulted “Bad Luck Brian” – his real name is Kyle Craven – and Laney Griner, “Success Kid” mother.
“That’s the only thing memes can do to control,” remembers Ms. Craven telling her.
The memes of “Disaster Girl” went viral. Once, a group from Polish asked for permission to use meme for educational material about a dying native language. Someone in Portugal sent Miss Roth murals with meme.
“You just make it fit but you want to fit it,” she said. “I love seeing them because I never made them myself, but I like to see how creative people are.”
Over the years, she had seen hundreds of repeats of her painting. One person shared last summer during racial justice rallies was one of her favorites, she said.
“Once it’s out there, it’s out there and there’s nothing you can do with it,” says Mr Roth. “It always finds a way to stay relevant to whatever kind of new terrible thing is going on, so I laughed at a lot of them.”
Ms. Roth, 21 years old this year, is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying peace, war and defense. She said she was never recognized as the “Disaster Girl”, but most of her friends and acquaintances know her meme popularity.
“People get into memes and go viral, but just the way the internet grabs my photo and keeps it viral, keeps it relevant, drives me crazy,” she said. . “I am incredibly grateful for the whole experience.”
Even so, she said, she hopes to one day do something meaningful enough to move “Disaster Girl” onto the second page of the search results for her name.
After graduating, Ms. Roth plans to take a short year of study before pursuing graduate studies in international relations. She said she would donate the property she earned from her likeness – still in crypto – to charities and to pay off her student loans, among other things.
When she gets home, she often walks past the land where it all started and wonders if the locals know that it’s a “meme site”, she said.
“The people in the meme don’t really have a choice in it,” she said. “The internet is huge. Whether you’re having a good experience or a bad one, you just need to make the most of it. “
Ben Lashes, Roths curator and star of other memes including “Nyan Cat”, “Grumpy Cat”, “Keyboard Cat”, “Doge”, “Success Kid”, “David After Dentist” and “Ridicical Photogenic Guy ”Says his customers have accumulated more than $ 2 million in NFT sales.
NFT’s sales, he said, helped establish the meme as a sophisticated art form and a “serious part of culture”.
“I think any time you can find a collector – no matter what the price is – who respects the art behind it and will cherish it, it’s a successful purchase, for whether it’s an Ether or 200 or 300, ”he said.