The image of Zoe Roth, her somewhat eerie little smiley face to the camera as firefighters scramble to save a burning house behind her, has been around online for years.
The image of Roth, taken in 2005 near a planned and controlled burn, has become an iconic meme known as “Disaster Girl.”
Today, 16 years after the image was taken, “Disaster Girl” earned Roth, 21, approximately $ 430,000.
Like Roth, an influx of viral celebrities featured in classic memes have hit and sold their images as NFTs or non-fungible tokens. Since the start of the year, memes have experienced a sort of NFT “gold rush”, experts say.
“It was really fascinating to see how this gold rush came about,” said Don Caldwell, editor of the Know Your Meme cataloging and research website. “In terms of becoming a meme, it’s very difficult to monetize that. We spoke to a lot of people who have become memes and have had a hard time making money from their creations.”
NFTs function as a kind of certificate of authenticity. Rather than the owner of the NFT holding a sheet of paper indicating the authenticity of a work, the NFT is a string of unique characters. These characters are connected to a blockchain, a group of computers that act like a digital ledger that no computer can change. The same concept fuels cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, but while bitcoins are all essentially the same, NFTs are non-fungible or unique.
Roth is one of a unique club of people who went viral by accident and were launched to massive digital fame. These meme stars have seen their faces cast on the internet, used as a means of conveying reactions or emotions with relative anonymity despite their fame – a casual internet user probably does not know Roth’s name or that she is “Disaster Girl” .
This unusual type of fame generally offered little financial benefit to his subjects until NFTs exploded in recent months.
As NFTs became mainstream – with artists, sports leagues, celebrities and many more hitting the market – the meme makers decided to jump in on the action.
Staples of traditional internet memes like “Bad Luck Brian”, whose real name is Kyle Craven; “Overly Attached Girlfriend”, whose real name is Laina Morris; and “Success Kid”, a photograph taken by Laney Griner of her son, Sam, have all sold in recent months as NFT.
Roth sold its image as an NFT on April 17 for 180 Ether, a cryptocurrency registered on the Ethereum blockchain and is equivalent to around $ 2,200 per unit, according to MarketWatch. In early April, Morris sold his “Overly Attached Girlfriend” meme for around $ 411,000. In March, Craven sold “Bad Luck Brian” for approximately $ 36,000.
The meme NFTs do not imply the creator of the meme nor the buyer “owns” the meme as a copyright and therefore cannot prevent the dissemination or use of the meme, according to Decrypt, a website that covers the copyright. cryptocurrency. The NFT looks more like a digital autograph from the meme’s creator, Decrypt reported, certifying authenticity – similar to an autographed baseball card.
Experts say the desire to buy memes as an NFT is equivalent to buying an original piece of art, rather than a recreation or reprint. The NFT acts as a kind of certificate of authenticity. And interest in buying minted NFTs has given what some may consider a “dead meme,” a meme that was once popular but has since lost its stature, a second life.
“The reason we talk about NFTs this way is because you have people who have spent millions of dollars on this work, and so because there is a lot of money at stake, the spotlight is on them. “said Shane Tilton, associate professor. multimedia journalism at Ohio Northern University and author of the upcoming book “Meme Life”. “It basically gave the meme makers a chance to re-promote their work because there is now a projector and a stage to show their work to a new audience or to an audience that had forgotten.”
Caldwell said the origins of NFT memes date back to 2018, when Peter Kell purchased an NFT meme known as “Homer Pepe” – a cryptographic work of art that looks like a fusion of the Internet meme “Pepe the Frog “and Homer Simpson from” The Simpsons “. Kell bought the “Rare Pepe,” as it was called, for around $ 39,000, according to Know Your Meme. Earlier this year, Kell resold the NFT for around $ 312,000, Know Your Meme reported.
“This year we’ve really seen NFTs explode in general and with that have come meme makers selling their memes,” Caldwell said.
Although a large number of notable memes have sold as NFTs, Caldwell said the person who arguably started the recent “gold rush” was Chris Torres, the creator of pixel art “Nyan Cat”. a cat with a Pop-Tart body in mind. of a Rainbow Trail, which sold its creation for about $ 580,000, according to the New York Times.
“All of these meme makers started hitting their NFTs in this market called Foundation, which is one of the most popular for these creators,” Caldwell said.
Torres was friends with many meme makers, Caldwell said, and advised others to sell their creations as NFT.
Caldwell said that, for now, established, multi-year-old memes seem to be the most in-demand among NFT buyers. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if the new memes try to hit their creations as NFT and cash in on the windfall.
“So far we’ve mostly seen those established memes that are iconic and have been around for a decade or more. This is what has paved the way so far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the new memes and the new meme makers were starting to be successful. hitting their NFTs, “he says.” It’s sort of in the air though. “