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.