Zoë Roth was internet famous before many of us knew what that was.
When she was 4, her dad took a picture of her standing in front of a burning house and a firetruck. She’s looking back at the camera knowingly, leaving the viewer to suspect she had something to do with this disaster.
But in reality, the fire scene was part of a training exercise for firefighters in Mebane, N.C., near where Zoë and her father, Dave Roth, lived.
After he entered it in a photo contest in 2007, it soon became the stuff of internet legend, launching “disaster girl” memes around the world: Zoë looking back as the Titanic sinks, Zoë looking back as a mushroom cloud rises, Zoë looking back from the burning house saying, “She Should Of Made Me Cookies!!!!”
Now, Zoë is a 21-year-old senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who works at an Italian restaurant. Earlier this month came a big payoff for all this fame: A “nonfungible token,” or NFT, of the original copy of the iconic photo sold at auction for nearly $500,000. The buyer is 3F Music, a music studio based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which has collected several other NFTs.
NFTs are part of the latest internet craze.
As NPR’s Bobby Allyn explained: Nonfungible means “you can’t exchange it for another thing of equal value. A $10 bill can be exchanged for two $5 bills. One bar of gold can be swapped for another bar of gold of the same size. Those things are fungible. An NFT, though, is one of a kind. The token refers to a unit of currency on the blockchain. It’s how cryptocurrency like Bitcoin is bought and sold.”
An NFT of a video clip of LeBron James dunking recently sold for more than $200,000. Nyan Cat, a popular meme from 2011 that features an animated flying cat, sold for nearly $600,000. That’s relatively small potatoes. Last month, a JPG file made by a digital artist known as Beeple sold for nearly $70 million.
As for Zoë Roth, all that internet fame has continued to puzzle her.
“As long as I’ve been on social media, it’s also been there doing its own thing,” she recently told The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. “So I’ve never been able to separate myself from it.”