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Catception is a YouTube video series that consists of response videos showing a cat watching the Nyan Cat video. With repetition of the process, the series results in a recursive chain of videos of cats watching videos of cats watching the original Nyan Cat video, also known as the Droste Effect.
A portmanteau of cat and the film Inception, the term “Catception” has been previously used with other “Inception”-inspired viral media, including a video titled “Catception – The Original Dramatic Inception Cat” uploaded on July 19th, 2010 and a photograph of a cat bearing a fur pattern that resembles the silhouette of a cat. The original instance of a cat watching the Nyan Cat video was uploaded by YouTuber alwayshungrycat on September 5th, 2011. The video gained over 386,000 views in the span of four months.
There are earlier precedents of recursive voyeurism on YouTube, such as serial videos of people watching “Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger,” an archived footage uploaded by Rocketboom on February 27th, 2008, and
response video of a kitten watching the Kittens Inspired by Kittens video uploaded on February 12th, 2009. In addition, the 2010 music video for “Pardon Me” by Maxine Swaby was parodied by YouTubers in a similar manner.
The paradoxical phenomenon of infinite regression has been encapsulated in the humorous expression “Turtles all the way down,” most famously iterated in the introduction of Stephen Hawking’s 1988 book A Brief History of Time:
A well-known scientist once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
The initial response video to “Kitten Watching Nyan Cat” was posted by YouTuber Ledenes on September 7th, 2011, triggering a chain of response videos that continued in the following week. On the following day, Redditor walrus0 posted a link to the video in a request thread titled “Can someone with a cat please make and upload a video of a cat watching a cat watching a cat watching Nyan cat?” but didn’t generate any comments.
The phenomenon was reported by the internet culture blogs The Daily What and SayOMG on September 10th. A number of additional instances were posted on Reddit throughout September 2011 and the video series was soon compiled into a screenshot collage and animated GIF images, which were picked up by various internet humor sites including SenorGIF, DamnLOL and FunnyJunk among others. The video series was also turned into a playlist titled “Catception” by YouTuber NJBZXWhatsUp.