The ‘Disaster Girl’ picture is the most recent in a string of classic memes to be sold as an NFT(nonfungible token).
The original form, a picture of Zoë Roth at age four taken by her father, is a long-standing member of the internet meme lexicon.
Want to feel old? The girl from the “disaster girl” meme is a 20-year-old college senior pic.twitter.com/9txlBczPbK
— Rex Woodbury (@rex_woodbury) April 30, 2021
Roth, now 21, auctioned the image as an NFT for US$500,000, which she says she will use to pay off her student loan and donate to charity.
Her father Dave Roth is splitting the winnings with her, as the sale means they will keep the copyright of the image and receive 10 per cent of the profits if it is sold in the future.
Disaster Girl, though, is not the first meme – and likely not the last – to be sold as an NFT.
People who unwittingly become memes are not necessarily prolific content creators. Rather, part of the memeification process often relies on the general anonymity of the memer (or memee?) themselves. NFTs provide those featured in memes a unique opportunity to financially capitalise on their moment of virality.
In early April, Laina Morris, forever known online as ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’, sold her original meme for US$411, 000.
Both Roth and Morris sold their NFT’s for Ethereum, a form of cryptocurrency. They were also both bought buy 3F Music, a music studio based in Dubai. 3F Music has emerged as a prolific NFT collector, purchasing The New York Times‘s March NFT as well.
Back in March, Kyle Craven – aka Bad Luck Brian – sold his memeified yearbook photo for US$36,000, again using Etherium.
Bad Luck Brian is about to be Billionaire Brian pic.twitter.com/nLqwPc2hqO
— J (@_Jimboat) April 28, 2021
An NFT works as a digital signature. It doesn’t mean other people can’t share or distribute the meme, it just means that the owner of the NFT has the authentic, original version.
Last week, Aussie band Bag Raiders announced that their viral, explosively memeified song ‘Shooting Stars’ would also be sold as an NFT. According to the band, they “teamed up with the original creator of the Shooting Stars meme”. They have also said that 20 per cent of the profits would go to Australian music non-profit organisations.
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It was the creator of Nyan Cat, the perennial earworm of anyone with access to YouTube in 2011, who arguably started the movement of memes as NFTs. In February, Chris Torres listed the original animation of Nyan Cat on Foundation – the same platform that the NYT, Bad Luck Brian, Overly Attached Girlfriend, and Disaster Girl memes were sold on.
It sold for approximately US$580,000.
NFTs are one of the only ways for normal people who unwittingly go viral to make money from the widespread use of their faces. However, the rise of NFTs has also been a cause for concern among environmental activists.
Ethereum, the aforementioned cryptocurrency frequently used in NFT transactions, takes 26.5 terawatt-hours of electricity a year to mine. As pointed out by The Hill, this is almost the same amount of energy that the entire country of Ireland uses in one year.
Ethereum is built on an energy-hungry system called “proof of work”, a security system that watches over transactions.
When miners solve the puzzles, they add a new block of “verified transactions to a decentralized ledger called the blockchain. The miner then gets new tokens or transaction fees as a reward. The process is incredibly energy inefficient on purpose. The idea is that using up inordinate amounts of electricity — and probably paying a lot for it — makes it less profitable for someone to muck up the ledger.”
Despite concerns, and commitments by some artists not to sell their work as NFTs until the ecological issues are addressed, the popularity of the form shows little chance of slowing. But, whether memes-as-NFTs will be a lasting frontier of the monetisation of internet culture remains to be seen.
Featured Image: Dave Roth
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