TV & Movies

The Transformation Of The ‘Disaster Girl’ Behind The Famous Meme

Back in January 2004, a father snapped a photo of his 4-year-old daughter in front of a burning house down the street from their home in North Carolina. Now, 16 years later, the meme that was born out of that image, called “Disaster Girl,” is still going strong. The 4-year-old in the meme is now 21 and her name is Zoe Roth. She’s a senior at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and she takes her internet fame/infamy in stride, per the News & Observer.

For background on the infamous meme, it features Roth with her hair disheveled. She’s smirking as if she knows it all, or, more accurately as if she set the fire blazing in the background, per the News & Observer. Rest assured, she wasn’t a tiny pyromaniac. Fire engine sirens were a normal thing for Roth and her family, as they lived down the street from a fire station. On this fateful night, the fire was a controlled burn on a property near Roth’s house to clear the land. Her father thought the fire was an opportune time to test out his new camera. He entered the photo in contests. The internet found it, and the rest is history.

Roth noted in the News & Observer interview that her meme is one that has endured. It is still used and hasn’t faded from the public consciousness.

The making of a meme

Zoe Roth’s father entered a number of photo contests with the picture of his precocious-looking daughter in front of the fire. The image won a contest for JPG Magazine, per News & Observer, It was published in the February/March 2008 issue of the magazine as well as on its website and that led to the image spreading like wildfire (pun intended), Refinery29 reports.

Before long, people on the internet started photoshopping Roth into photos of catastrophes ranging from the sinking of the Titanic to 9/11 and sharing it on social media sites. Then BuzzFeed collected all the various photos of Roth and created a chronological timeline of them starting with the extinction of the dinosaurs. Roth was officially dubbed “Disaster Girl,” and the meme has proliferated across the internet ever since.

When Roth’s father showed Zoe the images, he created a history lesson around them to help her understand the significance of the events her photo was in front of, Refinery29 reports.

If Zoe had become “Disaster Girl” a decade later, she’d be famous for real. But back in 2008, the people in memes tended to remain anonymous, unlike today when they go on talk shows, start YouTube channels, launch music careers, and make money hand over fist. We’re looking at you, Danielle Bregoli, the “cash me ousside how bow dah” girl, per Celebrity Net Worth.

However, that has just changed for “Disaster Girl.”

"Disaster Girl" is finally cashing in on her viral fame

Now, Zoe Roth and her father are laughing all the way to the bank. The Roths just sold the image as an NFT (for an explanation on what NFTs are click here), per Gizmodo. Roth sold her image for 180 Ethereum, which is equal to $473,000 at its current value.

Good for her! Nearly half a million dollars is a nice nest egg to graduate college with. The description that accompanied her image in the NFT sale, read (per Gizmodo): “4-year-old Zoe Roth ran to the burning house in her neighborhood on a fateful morning in January 2005. Her Dad was a few steps behind with camera in tow, and quickly snapped a few photos of Zoe flashing a devilish grin with the inferno ablaze. One photo stood out and was published in 2008. Discovered by internet connoisseurs, it rapidly spread to every corner of the world, becoming one of the most recognizable images of the 21st century.”

The News & Observer reports that a person contacted Roth and her father in February via email and floated the idea of selling the image of Zoe as an NFT. The father and daughter reportedly plan to split the profits. Roth is looking at nonprofits to make a donation. She continues to work as a hostess at an Italian restaurant near the campus of UNC.

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