Leak Culture Is Bad For Fans, Creators, And Pretty Much Everyone

The Owl House has leaked. Almost two weeks before For The Future is set to air on The Disney Channel, the company has gone and uploaded the whole special on iTunes in Canada. I remember the same occurring with Amphibia and its True Colors finale, an episode already mired in controversy for all the wrong reasons. In the end, it was incredible, but not before myriad creators were put through hell and unfairly represented by a company that should know so much better. How does something this integral even happen, and after one huge kerfuffle, why hasn’t a safeguard been put in place to stop it happening all over again?

Because we can’t have nice things, leaks are already spreading all over the internet. The folks who worked so hard on this truncated final season can do nothing but watch the chaos unfold, their planned moment in the spotlight torn away as work is viewed in a light far from celebratory. Double unfortunate is how awful the internet can be when it comes to accessing leaks and spreading them without consent, removing the context in which a show is meant to be consumed, and allowing years of hard work to trickle away into apathy. Dana Terrace and those involved in this trio of specials are doing everything they can to tell a story that has already been nipped and tucked by forces out of their control, and now said overlords aren’t even gracious enough to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. There’s no bright side.

I have no idea if the episode is still up, but like Beyonce at the Superbowl, once something is online, there’s no erasing it. Plot points are out in the wild, as are character revelations and big reveals that would have hit so much harder in the right circumstances. Imagine having a creative work you poured your heart and soul into ripped from you and presented in a way that goes against your wishes. I understand that comes with the territory when working alongside a giant like Disney, which puts profits above artistic integrity much of the time, but that doesn’t excuse such blatant mismanagement. This leak hurts the final hurrah of a show that already deserves much better, and it’s too late to remedy this mistake.

So here we are, trying to pick up the pieces and hoping the same thing doesn’t happen with the third and final special. Leaks are inevitable in our current landscape, but normally they’re dished out by insiders eager to conjure up some temporary clout or dishonest trolls wanting to rile up fandoms into an angry stupor. It’s very easy once you break down the fundamentals, but it seldom happens from the inside in such a laughably blunt way. You’re Disney, you own half of entertainment media, so maybe have your partners manage their upload schedule a bit better. I’m selfishly annoyed that I can no longer enjoy this show with my friends or as a critic with the same impact, but compared to the crew and those on the ground making The Owl House happen, it’s nothing.

Leaks are also a hotbed for misunderstanding and toxicity, as two recent examples so easily demonstrate. The Last of Us Part 2 leaked in its entirety online ahead of launch, unleashing an already controversial narrative onto the world in an unfinished state. Joel’s death ended up being a dog whistle for right-wing idiots to bemoan their own oblivious toxic masculinity, while Abby’s muscular physique and position in the story opened her character and actor Laura Bailey to a torrent of misogyny and death threats that willingly misunderstood everything, so long as it furthered their own hostile agenda. Critique the game in good faith by all means, but it was clear that TLOU2 was a punching bag for all the wrong reasons. Half of this may not have unfolded if it weren’t for a leak, which itself was continuously misreported on by an industry I’d expect much better from.

More recently, we had Grand Theft Auto 6 leak in one of the biggest cases in entertainment history, with entire source codes surfacing online that Rockstar had no way of preventing. I saw so many comments claiming the game was unfinished, unpolished, and hardly living up to expectations, once again leading to hateful comments and harassment because certain fans aren’t articulate enough to either keep their mouths shut or recognise the complicated work that goes into creating their favourite things. Rockstar eventually spoke up and talked about the leak’s legitimacy, which has now vanished from public conversation until a full reveal rears its head. If this results in a change of direction or delay, I won’t be surprised.

I’m not arguing against the need for transparency between an audience and creators, but we have yet to reach a point where this can be achieved without anyone being hurt. Fandoms jump to conclusions, and clouded individuals can act in bad faith. The reality is that our favourite entertainment often only comes together in the final stride, disparate pieces from several departments forming to make a whole everyone can be proud of. Deciding to show off an individual part of that vision without the appropriate context leads to needless debates and misguided speculation that never ends well. Those behind leaks are well aware of such an ultimatum, and unleashing them is more about ego than public interest, and new footage or screenshots of an unreleased or unannounced thing doesn’t constitute that either way.

Leaks mislead fans, discourage creators, and sustain a climate of perceived dishonesty that, in most situations, have never led anywhere positive. Without a fundamental shift in our current landscape, I don’t see that changing. The Owl House is merely the next in a long line of unfortunate victims being thrown under the bus as creatives salvage the situation. Internal leaks are different from some asshole hacking your account and pulling some assets, but the impact it has on people is much the same, and they all deserve a lot better than this.

If you’re a fan of The Owl House, and can help yourself for a couple more weeks, ignore the leaks and respect the wishes of the cast and crew. They worked too damn hard on these specials to have them prematurely released like this.

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