A 21-year-old senior at the University of North Carolina just cashed in on an infamous meme from when she was just a child.
In 2005, when Zoë Roth was four-years-old, her father - an amateur photographer - took her to a house fire in their neighborhood in Mebane, NC, where firefighters had intentionally set the blaze in a controlled burn.
Taking advantaged of the 'relaxed affair,' neighbors gathered. Roth's father, snapping photographs, told her to flash a smile, according to the New York Times.
With her hair askew and a knowing look in her eyes, Ms. Roth flashed a devilish smirk as the fire roared behind her. “Disaster Girl” was born. -NYT
The image went super-viral. Her father, David Roth, even won a 2007 photo contest with it - while others have edited the image into various disasters from history such as the Titanic, the Notre Dame Fire, and even the meteor which took out the dinosaurs.
Now, Roth has cashed out - selling the original copy of "Disaster Girl" as a NFT (Non-Fungible Token) for just under $500,000.
At an April 17 online auction, an anonymous user identified as @3FMusic bought "Disaster Girl" for 180 Ethereum - which was valued at $495,000 on Thursday. The Roths have retained the copyright and will receive 10% of any future sales, according to the Times.
The market for ownership rights to digital art, ephemera and media known as NFTs, is exploding. All NFTs, including the “Disaster Girl” meme Ms. Roth just sold, are stamped with a unique bit of digital code that marks their authenticity, and stored on the blockchain, a distributed ledger system that underlies Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
In the meme hall of fame, “Disaster Girl” ranks alongside “Ermahgerd,” a pigtailed teenage girl posing with “Goosebumps” books; “Bad Luck Brian,” immortalized in a grimacing yearbook photo with braces; and “Success Kid,” a toddler on a beach with a clenched fist and an expression of intense determination.
Ben Lashes, who manages the Roths and stars of other memes including “Nyan Cat,” “Grumpy Cat,” “Keyboard Cat,” “Doge,” “Success Kid,” “David After Dentist” and the “Ridiculously Photogenic Guy,” said his clients had cumulatively made over $2 million in NFT sales. -NYT
Roth told the Times that selling the meme 'was a way for her to take control over a situation that she has felt powerless over since she was in elementary school.' Before selling, she even consulted Kyle Craven - known for the "Bad Luck Brian" meme, and Laney Griner, the mother of "Success Kid."
"It’s the only thing that memes can do to take control," Roth recalled Craven telling her.
Roth is now studying 'peace, war and defense' at the University of North Carolina, where she says nobody has recognized her as "Disaster Girl" outright. Most of her friends and acquaintances, however, know it's her.
"People who are in memes and go viral is one thing, but just the way the internet has held on to my picture and kept it viral, kept it relevant, is so crazy to me," she said, adding "I’m super grateful for the entire experience."
Roth plans to take a year off after graduating before pursuing a graduate degree in international studies. She says she'll donate the fortune she's made from her likeness to charities, after she's paid off her student loans.