‘Disaster Girl’ Meme NFT Sells for $500,000


The name Zoë Roth might 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 house on fire in their neighborhood in Mebane, N.C. Firefighters had intentionally set the blaze as a controlled fire, so it was a relaxed affair: Neighbors gathered and firefighters allowed children to take turns holding the hose.

Ms. Roth remembers watching the flames engulf the house when her father, an amateur photographer, asked her to smile. 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.

In the years since Dave Roth, Zoë’s father, entered it in a photo contest in 2007 and won, the image has been edited into various disasters from history, with Ms. Roth grinning impishly as a meteor wipes out the dinosaurs or the Titanic sinks in the distance. Now, after more than a decade of having her image endlessly repurposed as a vital part of meme canon, Ms. Roth has sold the original copy of her meme as a nonfungible token, or NFT, for nearly half a million dollars.

The meme sold for 180 Ether, a form of cryptocurrency, at a Foundation auction on April 17 to a user identified as @3FMusic. As with any currency, the value of Ether fluctuates, but as of Thursday, 180 Ether was valued at more than $495,000. The Roths retained the copyright and will receive 10 percent of future sales.

“You just make it fit however you want to fit it,” she said. “I love seeing them because I’d never make any of them myself, but I love seeing how creative people are.”

Over the years, she’s seen hundreds of iterations of her picture. One shared last summer during racial justice protests was among her favorites, she said.

“Once it’s out there, it’s out there and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Mr. Roth said. “It always finds a way to stay relevant with whatever new kind of awful, terrible bad thing is happening, so I’ve laughed at a lot of them.”

Ms. Roth, now 21, is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying peace, war and defense. She has never been recognized as “Disaster Girl” outright, she said, but most of her friends and acquaintances know of her meme fame.

“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. “I’m super grateful for the entire experience.”

“I think anytime you can find a collector — no matter what the price is — who respects the art behind it and is going to cherish it, that’s a successful sale, whether it’s one Ether or 200 or 300,” he said.



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