Expectation Lowerer

"My advice would be to bring a friend that has your basic characteristics, but is slightly less attractive."
Dan Arieli gives dating tips in Predictably Irrational

A character that exists to provide a flattering contrast to the audience by being worse than the audience in some specific respect.

This trope exists on a sliding scale of scorn; at one end the character simply exists as a flattering contrast to the audience (the Idiot Hero often fits here). At this end of the spectrum, the audience focuses on the "if this character can do x, then I certainly can do x!"

On the other end of scorn scale is the harder version, where a character that is made pathetic so the audience can feel better about themselves (via Schadenfreude). The Ditz, a very common trope in Sitcoms, is this (but Played for Laughs).

Arguably an Expectation Lowerer is an Inversion of Escapist Character; Escapist Characters allow you to feel good by giving you an Audience Surrogate that you can experience awesomeness through. An Expectation Lowerer makes you feel good in the exact opposite way; you cannot identify with this character and this character, in at least one respect, is worse than you.

Not to be confused with This Loser Is You; where a character you identify with is the character that sucks. This Loser Is You basically flings the audience's faults back into their face whereas an Expectation Lowerer allows them to distance themselves from their faults.

Compare/Contrast the Mary Sue, a character who (like the Expectation Lowerer) the audience does not identify with, but due to the character's strengths rather than weaknesses.

Possibly related to Friedrich Nietzsche and his concept of "Pathos Of Distance" (where one casts that which one does not identify with as the morally wrong).

Examples

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    Philosophy 
  • Friedrich Nietzsche and his aforementioned concept of the "pathos of distance" is arguably related to this. Nietzsche argued that moral concepts came about because societies/groups/cliques defined themselves (and a list of traits they allegedly embodied) as "the good" and hence "the unlike us" became "the bad."
  • St Thomas Aquinas believed that the righteous in Heaven will be able to observe the torments of the wicked in Hell; the better to enjoy their blessedness. This is probably the harshest demonstration of the second kind of Expectation Lowerer, with gloating and schadenfreude on a celestial level.

    Live Action Television 
  • This is the reason for Bumbling Dad and all other negative portrayals of men on TV; it is not that feminists have taken over TV, it's that the male audience want to see someone who is more pathetic than they are. And, for example, worse at parenting. (Though arguably the Bumbling Dad could be indirectly caused by feminists exerting pressure on men to become better fathers, and the men wanting reassurance that they already are being good fathers in comparison to that loser on TV)
  • Every single guest on Jerry Springer, and the UK equivalent Jeremy Kyle.
  • Hopeless Auditionees on any TV Talent Show (for instance, American Idol).
  • All of the main characters in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
  • Studies show that this is literally true of the contestants on reality television; it can actually serve as a mental substitute for self-betterment.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • According to Scott Adams, this was the reason he ended the relationship between Dilbert and Liz. He kept getting e-mails stating essentially "Dilbert shouldn't get lucky before I do."

    Web Original 
  • This, mixed with Bile Fascination, drives sites like Encyclopedia Dramatica and People of Walmart (among many, many others).
  • The Scumbags of the Internet section on A Dose Of Buckley gives us the following catchphrase, which all but invokes this trope:
    "So thanks to today's Scumbag of the Internet, [insert name or nickname here], for making us all feel better by knowing no matter what we do in life, we'll always be better than he/she/they is/are."

    Western Animation