Nyan Cat: Nothing Happens, Longer, Again

Curator's Note

The aim of the recent “In Focus” dossier on speed is to consider the value of “speed theory” for cinema and media scholars. As its contributors and I argue, approaching the moving image as “speed theorists” means questioning entrenched positions—for example, those that have settled around fast vs. slow/commercial vs. art/new vs. old media. It also means considering how understandings of speed, pace, tempo, and duration are formed through dense sets of relations and interactions, and through a complex layering of temporal, narrative, experiential, and affective registers.

Nyan Cat (2011) allows us to broaden our understanding of how we gauge the notion of speed, particularly in relation to networked media whose success is dictated by how rapidly it is circulated. Originally created as a GIF animation, the Nyan Cat YouTube video (a 3 minute 37 second version set to music) has been widely remade, re-mixed, and parodied, becoming the 5th most viewed YouTube video of 2011, and winning the Webby award for Meme of the Year in 2012 (Neal, 2013). While many of these re-iterations picture the cat in new settings, others modulate only the pace and the duration at which the Nyan Cat “Nyans”. To date, there are versions of the video on YouTube ranging from 1 second, to 1 minute, to 10 hours, to 24 hours, while the Nyan.Cat website allows for the video to be viewed potentially ad infinitum, while a counter keeps stock of how long the viewer has “Nyaned” and invites her to share her score via Facebook and Twitter.

These extended versions of the video are interesting precisely because they bring the accelerated pace and mobility of viral videos into an uncomfortable tension with a protracted, extended pace that is often seen as antithetical to the dominant temporality of communicative capitalism. Indeed, like many examples of ‘slow’ cinema, these extended versions deploy duration as a form of provocation (on that score, see Paint Drying, the recent 10 hour film by Charlie Lyne, intended as a pain-inducing protest against the BBFC’s classification policies). However, unlike their cinematic counterparts—long movies in which “nothing happens”—these protracted videos remove this “nothing” from a cinematic continuum and submit it, instead, to the rhythm of the loop. Here, “nothing” happens, for a long time, but it happens again, and again, and again, and again.


Tanya Horeck's picture

Nyan Cat makes me feel

Nyan Cat makes me feel extremely irritated - in fact I think I might hate him - I lasted 21 seconds before I had to stop watching. Can you speak to the nature of that kind of affective response and how it relates to some of the ideas you raise in your thought provoking post regarding virality, speed, and communicative capitalism?

Thanks Tina!

Tina Kendall's picture

Feel-Bad Virality

Thanks Tanya!

Yes, I think the response of irritation seems to be a common response to Nyan Cat, and is what I had in mind when I suggested that the video partakes of a broader tradition of provocation that is more commonly associated with slow art films.

Interestingly, the Fine Brothers have made two reaction videos based on the original Nyan Cat video: ‘Kids React to Nyan Cat’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TQbDz6-4eM and ‘Elders React to Nyan Cat’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dqm4dQv4F9w

Both videos showcase a particular rhythm of affective response which is common to almost all of the young and old viewers, and it is this dynamic of affective response which interests me in relation to questions of duration and the speeds and temporalities that operate in a digital network culture. At first, the viewers seem to be interested and intrigued by Nyan Cat, most find the video funny or at least mildly entertaining. At around the 30 second mark, this more positive affective response starts to diminish, as viewers begin to ask questions about whether there is more to the video, or what the point of it might be. Past the 50 second or 1 minute mark, viewers become downright irritated and angry, and many begin to yell at their screens. It’s in this context of what the Tiqqun collective calls communicative capitalism’s “hatred of duration” that viewers are invited to respond.

Adam Cottrel's picture

Loop vs Line

Hi Tina—I’m interested in this piece and the dossier in general since it so nicely aligns with my work on endurance. Having said that, I’m curious how you might imagine, and perhaps in a similar fashion to Tanya’s question, a proper viewing practice for this type of media. For instance, a piece like “24-Hour Psycho” is quite a bit different than a Pedro Costa film even though both pieces have been discussed as slow cinema, albeit for different reasons.

So, I’m wondering if it is appropriate to think about a 24-Hour Nyan Cat in these contexts—being forced to feel time for a set time—or if it defies that practice because we are given the option (mercifully) to stop watching immediately, and presumably, like Tanya, we all did.

Tina Kendall's picture

Duration & Networked Media

Hi Adam,

Yes, great question. This question of the spectator’s or user’s intervention is crucial to this discussion, since the viewer not only has the option of pausing or stopping the video but also of speeding it up (as is the case in several of the re-mixed versions that are accelerated to 1 minute and 1 second long).

It is the possibility of these gestures—switching off, speeding up, remixing, liking, sharing, tweeting one’s score, etc.—that defines what a ‘proper viewing practice’ might be in this context. This is partially what accounts for the wavering of our attention around the 30 second mark (or earlier, as in Tanya’s case) - 30 seconds seems to be long enough for the viewer to decide what gestures or actions she is called on to perform.

In this regard, the Nyan.Cat website is perhaps the most interesting example, since it hinges on a masochistic deferral of such gestures over whatever length of time the viewer is able to endure the endless Nyan Cat loops. However, this endurance test is mostly a pretext, since the whole point of the website is to sell Nyan Cat merchandise.

But in regard to your point about whether we are ‘forced to feel time for a set time,’ I don’t think these loops allow us to feel time per se. Being trapped in a perpetual loop is different than experiencing cinematic time.

Tiago de Luca's picture


Thanks for a really thought-provoking post, Tina. I’m particularly interested in the place of the spectator in relation to discussions of fast/slow in the cinema, which is crucial for a deeper understanding of how slowness can be experienced or averted. The fact that we can now mostly control the time spent watching durational images points to a larger question of how slowness is often experienced, that is to say, as a temporal duration that is imposed upon and that clashes with our own duration (think of Bergson’s famous sugar cubes dissolving in the water). In this respect, the question of where audiovisual images are consumed is paramount for, say, the same ‘slow’ images on show in a gallery setting (increasingly more common) or in the cinema will be experienced differently precisely because in the gallery it is the viewer who controls the time spent watching whereas in the cinema it is largely the other way round. So, to go back to Adam’s point, I think slow cinema is always much slower in the cinema.

James Harvey-Davitt's picture

Familiarity and expectation

Thanks for kicking things off Tina. I just screened this to some students and was surprised to find that they all knew of this and had known of it for a long time. I didn’t realise quite how prominent it is/was! This prior engagement and expectation clearly has an effect. I noted that some lasted longer than others with their irritation; some determinedly covered eyes or frustratedly pulled at their hair; others gawked in satisfaction throughout; one or two muttered in fear, “is this the 10 hour one!?”

Between the majority response of frustration and the few cases of amusement, I wonder, to what extent does one’s sense of humour, or grasp of irony, effect our engagement with the video? And to what extent is this effected by duration?

This brings me also to my own response (having just viewed this for the first time). This really made me think of Chris Morris’s BRASS EYE, when intervals are extended in an exaggerated way, relying on that assumed irritation, which comes out of having a particular expectation invoked, suspended and eventually thwarted, to (hopefully) comic effect (see 9.24-9.54 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIAJemmO-bg).

Tina Kendall's picture

Affect & Duration

Good to see you are putting our students to work as test subjects in this discussion, James! The Brass Eye example is a great one to bring in here - it shows how playing with our sense of the ‘proper’ duration of things can alter the functionality of media artefacts, and also impact on their affectivity.


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