Sometimes, the easiest way to show how awesome and cool a character is to make sure there's others nearby who simply aren't as awesome. The Straw Loser is a character whose main purpose in the plot is to not be "with it" - making it all the more obvious just how cool the main character is.
Most kinds of media have been known to use the Straw Loser at one point or another, but the character type tends to be most common in media which appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator. The Straw Loser is an especially effective way of making sure that the audience understands who the good guy is in commercials - when you only have half a minute to make a sales pitch, it helps to make sure that the viewer understands how lame the opposition is.
Long-form media can fall to this, too. A character who may have started off as a mild loser can become a Straw Loser given enough Flanderization. In extreme cases, can lead to Misaimed Fandom when the audience winds up sympathising with the Straw Loser — or, at least, thinks of the "cool guy" as "too cool for them". This is also a common cause of Strawman Has a Point. Sometimes this character will turn up even when the hero or heroes are perfect and thus the addition of a Straw Loser is superfluous; it's as if the creators feel the audience deserves a Hate Sink.
Straw Losers usually fall under Acceptable Lifestyle Targets - this is typically the safest way to show them as being uncool in such a way that isn't blatantly offensive. In this sense, the Straw Loser is also usually a Take That against whatever group is "uncool". The viewer must tacitly understand and agree with the characterization of the Straw Loser in order for it to have any effect. As part of this, whatever the group is known to oppose or be worried about is likely to be depicted as a Windmill, making their efforts something to pity or laugh at.
Has a great deal of crossover with the other categories in The War on Straw, as it makes it especially clear which side is the one that's supposed to be made of straw.
See also: This Loser Is You. Just not you-you. As noted above about acceptable targets, often crosses over with Token White; contrast the Unfazed Everyman. Compare Expectation Lowerer.
Subverted in Reinouryokusha Odagiri Kyouko no Uso when the designated Straw Loser (a skeptic whose life's work is to debunk the alleged "psychic powers" of the main character), is helped by the main character, into showing the audience that he treasures his wife's life more than proving that his opponent is a fraud.
Jimmy Olsen wants to be just like the other superheroes, but everyone in the superhero community have zero respect for him, even if he randomly gains and loses powers hundreds of times.
Alltell wireless phone company's My Circle ads has Chad the Cool Guy squaring off against four other incompetent, malign, and nerdy representatives from Chad's competing phone companies.
Rogers has commercials where a cool guy is always getting reception while the loser using another phone company keeps getting screwed by bad reception at critical moments.
The Geek Squad competes against a company in their commercials called...well, the not Geek Squad guys.
One rent-a-car company has a competitor infiltrate the company, realizing to his horror that the opposing company offers incredibly good service. Just to make sure we get the point, he clumsily "escapes" from the car after loudly proclaiming "I'm not a spy!"
The "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC" series of adverts. Mac is a fit young hipster, the PC is an aging dowdy schmoe. The imagery is unsubtle enough to promptparodies.
T-Mobile tries the same thing comparing a hot girl in a sun-dress who represents T-Mobile to a decent looking guy who represents the iPhone, but is suffering due to a weaselly looking guy who represents AT&T. Just as heavy handed as the PC/Mac ads, but since none of the actors are stand-up comedians, they're a lot less funny.
It also completely backfired in the British version of the ad, where David Mitchell and Robert Webb played the PC and Mac respectively, as expys of their Peep Show characters. To anyone who'd seen Peep Show, that meant the PC was a bit dull but reliable, whereas the Mac seemed cooler, but would get distracted at the first opportunity and never finish anything. To people who hadn't, the Mac just seemed a bit obnoxious - even Webb has described his character as "the smug unbearable one"
A pair of Weight Watchers ads depict a character named Hungry, a personification of human cravings for delicious, but unhealthy, junk food and candy being repeatedly ignored by the ads' human characters, even when it causes Hungry bodily harm. What pushes the ads into Misaimed Fandom territory that surpasses "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC" is that Hungry is an adorable, foot and a half tall orange muppet whose mischievous, food related antics are so fun and enthusiastic that the viewer can't help but identify with the little rascal, rather than the overly perfect human characters who don't even look overweight to begin with.
On a similar note, the adorable food from the Excel commercial, especially Donut, who gets treated as the chubby 'loser' of the group. So Donut is the loser in a group of Straw Losers. The characters are so adorable there's even a Facebook page dedicated to them.
In his 1980s stand-up routine, Ben Elton frequently noted that one of the quickest ways that marketers would use to identify the character who was supposed to be the 'farty' (his term for this trope) and thus distinguish him as a figure of derision as opposed to the 'cool' people that the audience was supposed to admire and desire to emulate was to stick a pair of glasses on him. As someone who actually wore glasses in Real Life, he was less than impressed.
In a series of Verizon FioS commercials, the clean cut, friendly and helpful Verizon FioS salesman is made to shine brighter by the dim-witted, slovenly and dishonest cable guy.
Similar to the wireless provider example above, Pepsi has run several commercials over the years associating themselves with "cooler" music. The most famous of these, arguably, was a 2004 Super Bowl commercial with YoungJimi Hendrix choosing between buying a soda from the Pepsi vending machine next to a guitar shop, or from the Coke vending machine next to an accordion shop (as we hear the opening bars of "Purple Haze" played on each respective instrument). Another one from 2003 featured Vanilla Coke and Pepsi Vanilla trucks stopped next to each other at a red light. The Coke driver is shown jamming to an REO Speedwagon song from the early 1970s. The Pepsi driver then flips a switch and his truck starts bouncing and blasting hip-hop all over the place, which everyone on the street obviously thinks is coolest thing ever. Definitely creates dissonance if you find REO Speedwagon much more enjoyable.
Jason Biggs seems to have made a career out of playing this type of character, beginning with American Pie. (Hell, one of his movies actually had the titleLoser.) This can be seen as a form of This Loser Is You appeal to guys who see themselves as not too successful with women either.
Elvis Presley was the King of Rock & Roll, and thus the coolest guy alive by default...so it seemed forced and counterproductive in his (post Army) movies to make him look cool by having every other guy around him be an ineffectual goofball.
Peter Pettigrew, who is portrayed in flashback as being a wimpy weasel overawed in the presence of his much cooler friends.
Aunt Petunia is revealed, retroactively to be a Straw Loser, and is only jealously lashing out at Harry because she didn't get to go to wizarding school. It's worse than that—Lily and Petunia's parents were so excited that their daughter was a witch, that Petunia became convinced that she had become The Unfavorite for no better reason than that fate had simply seen fit to choose the wrong sister. So she takes revenge on her sister for having a gift that caught their parents' eye, partly by abusing Harry, but especially by spoiling Dudley before Harry's eyes, so that Lily, in some way, can know what it's like to be the reviled child.
The Slytherin House was mostly in the story to supply mean, cheating jerks who collectively hate the main hero and his cause and are beaten by him in Quidditch or in inter-House competition.
Way back in 1632, natural philosopher Galileo Galilei was commissioned to write a book that would get the Catholic Church out of looking like it blindly supported Aristotle's dogma in a time when it was becoming increasingly clear that he was in serious error. He was told to make the book balanced, so he included a character who would represent all the old beliefs ... a ridiculous straw character based on his most extreme enemies. In a bizarre self-inflicted Stealth Insult, Pope Urban VIII became convinced that the Straw Loser represented him and had Galileo tried by the Inquisition. Equally humorously, the trial required the Church to actually declare the Copernican system heretical - previously the Church was tied to it mostly by its conscious philosophical debt to Aristotle. Galileo, ironically, became a better writer while under house arrest - Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences took away the Straw Loser status of the character while still letting him be critical of Galileo's work.
In The Talmud, this plays out with the rival schools of the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai. The latter basically exists to be always wrong- whatever Jewish practice is, it will be the one endorsed by Hillel, and Shammai will take a position that wasn't adopted. Given this and the above example, it's probably fair to say that philosophical dialogues tend to attract this trope.
That's an oversimplification. The canonical position is that "Hillel speaks the words of the living G-d, and Shammai speaks the words of the living G-d." Since Hillel's positions tended to be more compassionate (and less strictly letter-of-the-law), the idea was that there's more than one legitimate way to interpret every law — but that given the choice, it's usually better to go for the more humane one.
Many of Socrates' interlocutors in Plato's dialogues fall into this trope. Most notable is Thrasymachus from The Republic, who refuses to listen to anything Socrates says, and cries after he loses the debate.
In the same book, Eustace is one for a long while; obnoxious, unlikable, and with weird taste in books. Once his Character Development happens, these traits are almost completely removed (although no mention is made over his literature preferences) and he becomes much more likable.
Live Action TV
Jim Belushi's brother-in-law on According to Jim. Knows Latin word derivations? Check. Fatter than Jim? Check. Too dorky to get to go drinking with Jim? Check. Makes insulting remarks to Jim while the latter is asleep so he can feel important? Check. He actually makes Jim look cool.
The U.S. government has paid TV networks to make sure that anyone using drugs was portrayed as a loser. ER, Beverly Hills 90210, Chicago Hope, The Drew Carey Show, Seventh Heaven and other shows had their scripts reviewed by the government and changes made so the network could pocket some cash.
One example in the Warner Brothers' show, Smart Guy, an original episode script portrayed two young people using drugs at a party. Originally depicted as cool and popular, after input from the government drug office, they were redefined as losers and put into the utility room, just to make sure the audience knows that drugs are bad.
This is supposedly part of the reason why Lalaine left Lizzie McGuire.
No Ordinary Family has Katie as a straw loser to Stephanie. Katie sees Stephanie talking to her as validation from her therapist
On Family Matters, Waldo Geraldo Faldo was there to show that Steve wasn't Eddie's only friend who was a loser. Eddie's friendship with Steve made more sense because his bad qualities (nerdiness) could be seen as not that bad when you considered that his other best friend was kind of dumb.
Lampshaded by Eddie himself:
"I gotta get me some new friends."
The same dynamic existed on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air between Jazz, Carlton and Will. Carlton was kind of stuck-up but in comparison to Jazz, at least he had it together more.
Carlton Banks was the Straw Loser to Will Smith. When the show started they had more of a friendly rivalry with Carlton's sheltered-but-intelligent booksmarts being pit against Will's experienced-yet-wild streetsmarts, but as the show progressed Carlton morphed into an immature dork who simply couldn't compete with Will.
And Harper on Wizards of Waverly Place seems to exist to sport ultra-dorky outfits so that Alex can look fashionable by comparison. Creator/Disney Channel just loves this trope, it seems.
Harper's outfits go so far beyond "ultra-dorky" that they actually wrap back around to being cool somehow; certainly one has to be impressed by her willingness to wear some of these creations, and this is recognized in-story: there is an episode wherein Harper gets an internship with a fashion designer. A better example of this trope lies in how socially awkward Harper is generally. This is not so much to make Alex look cool by comparison as to make Alex look good: anyone whose best friend is such a social misfit and outcast presumably cannot be all bad.
The TV series Fame, full of good-looking artistic characters, in later seasons had one minor character who was fat and dumpy and played something called the flugelhorn (a real instrument, but look at the dorky name). He was given all the "wrong" views just to make it clear to the audience. The most egregious case was when the school protested having an ROTC program there—literally every other student and teacher was in on the protest, and Mr. Flugelhorn was apparently the only student who joined. (Which made what was probably intended as a "students being aware and caring and activist" plot turn into a "We don't want your kind around here" plot.)
Pretty much anyone who's a guest on the Jerry Springer, Dr. Phil or similar shows.
Jerry on Parks and Recreation is a subversion of sorts. He's constantly abused by the rest of the cast, who see him as an overweight loser who always screws up. A running joke reveals that in spite of being a loser in the office, he has a far better home life than anyone.
Cliff Clavin is an unpopular, put-upon, mama's boy mailman who's only really good for spouting dubious trivia at the Cheers bar. Cliff's best friend, the fat, lazy Norm Peterson gets more respect than him.
Blackadder: It is said, Percy, that the civilized man seeks out good and intelligent company so that by learned discourse he may rise above the savage and closer to God. Lord Percy:(delighted) Yes, I'd heard that. Blackadder: Personally, however, I like to start the day with a total dickhead to remind me I'm best.
In an episode of the American version of The Office, the employees finda screenplay by Michael Scott where he has an idealized version of himself named Agent Michael Scarn, whose sidekick Samuel (Dwight) "is this complete idiot causing the downfall of the United States."
Much and Allan-a-Dale from Robin Hood were often characterized as this throughout series three, seemingly as a way of making new arrivals Kate and Tuck look good in comparison. This included both of them acting extra clumsy, mucking up several outlaw plans, and getting laughed at for not knowing basic general knowledge (including how to count). Given that Much and Allan were highly popular characters, and that Tuck and Kate were the Replacement Scrappies to Will and Djaq, two genuinely intelligent characters, this tactic achieved nothing except to make the fandom loathe Kate and Tuck all the more.
The titular character of Sherlock once said that he cuts an impressive figure in the media by "taking the precaution of a good coat and a short friend," much to John's annoyance. In reality, nobody who knows John thinks he is anything less than a Badass Normal.
JAG: Kate’s superior in the first season episode "Ares”, Commander Dennis Brockman, fits this trope. Self-centered, mousy, lack of resourcefulness and eventually taken hostage by the bad guy: only to be saved by Harm.
In The Iliad, the Greek soldier Thersites is described as deformed, ugly, and annoying, and his most important role in the story is to openly criticize King Agamemnon and then be beaten by Odysseus for his arrogance. Under some interpretations, Thersites' ultimate purpose is to discredit those who opposed the Trojan War.
Jon Arbuckle from Garfield has been Flanderized into this, becoming possibly the biggest loser in the world so that Garfield, with his laziness, gluttony, and general lack of doing anything in the comic other than just laying there can seem cool by making wisecracks at his expense. It's pretty sad when you're a Straw Loser to a cat. (Although lately, Liz the Veterinarian has apparently gone and fallen in love with him and they've started dating, which, apparently, takes some of the points off his Loser Scale.)
Coach Hacker in Frazz exists solely to magnify Frazz's virtues through his own flaws. In virtually every appearance, he's a dimwit at best.
The Washington Generals, and teams like them, serve in this capacity to showboating teams like the Harlem Globetrotters. It helps make the Globetrotters' showboating look more impressive.
More specifically it allows them to showboat at all; the Generals are washouts by all metrics, so the Globetrotters are free to goof off without worrying about the Generals beating them by playing a serious game. Against actual competitive teams, the Globetrotters can and do play a serious game, and do quite well at it.
Played with in David Bowie's short film/long-form music video Jazzin' for Blue Jean. The story has him playing two different characters, Loser Protagonist Vic and British Rock Star Screamin' Lord Byron. In-story, clumsy, dateless, working-class Vic is the Straw Loser compared to everyone else — particularly "Mr. Screamin'", whom Vic is trying to introduce his dream girl to after telling a Celebrity Lie, since she's a fan of the star. However, Mr. Screamin' is revealed to be far less cool than his public persona suggests, and "Dream" was cruelly stringing Vic along, as the singer is a former lover of hers. In all this, Vic comes out as the (at least slightly) better man, and the story ends with Bowie breaking character to object to him not getting the girl.
In Dino Attack RPG, Plastic Serpent's sole reason for existing was to beaten up and make Snake look better in comparison.
Street Fighter - Dan. Nothing says loser more than a crybaby palette-swap in a pink gi who can only dish out wussy attacks and taunts. Compared to the other more notable fighters, he is the most likely to have his ass-kicked. Even when he wins he cries. Though those are obviously Manly Tears.
This is even worse in the UDON comics, as anytime he appears it's just to get a butt-kicking by his opponent and humiliated thoroughly.
Not to mention that he's still a highly trained martial artist who can shoot fire out of his hand and could likely kick the bejesus out of 99.9% of people who ever played a Street Fighter game without breaking a sweat.
From Mass Effect, Conrad Verner, a clingy Shepard's fanboy who ends up making things worse on many occasions.
Homestar Runner - In the Strong Bad Email "fan club" and the 'toon "Crystal Fortress", Strong Bad apparently uses vacuum-cleaner eating habits and talking with one's mouth full as shorthand for Straw Loserdom. Not surprising, as one of his least-liked costars is the King of Town.
"Mah Freen Amy" in Arfenhouse: The Movie is a self-described "fukkin retard" who believes that "PUIRRRPOL IZ k00l!!!!!!111"
ThisPowerup Comics strip, from which the page quote comes, with the character Dorkwinkle who is a parody of how many webcomics overuse this character type.
In a similar case to the Jon Arbuckle example, Daffy Duck was Flanderized into being perhaps one of the unluckiest Looney Tunes characters ever and was paired up with Bugs Bunny in several cartoons to show how much more cunning and savvy Bugs was compared to Daffy. This version of Daffy was originated by Chuck Jones and would go on to be used by everybody after that, abandoning Daffy's old 'screw-ball' character.
In The Looney Tunes Show, Daffy is Genre Savvy enough to use this trope to his advantage—he purposely gathers a circle of friends (Porky Pig, Marvin the Martian and Pete Puma, to be precise) who are so lame that he's the cool one and proceeds to do everything in his power to keep Bugs from joining the group.
Patrick can be considered this to SpongeBob SquarePants, especially in later seasons. Spongebob is frequently shown to be a brainless irritance to everyone around him, though often looks rather down to earth and clever compared to Patrick, a Too Dumb to LiveLazy Bum. Squidward seems to work as one for either of them in that, despite being far more intelligent and sane, is the universe's defining Butt Monkey, with Spongebob and Patrick often playing blissfully ignorant winners against his frustrated loser image.
In the episode "I'm With Stupid" Patrick actually attempts to utilize this trope to his advantage, asking Spongebob to act like a brainless loser in front of his parents when they visit so he will look less like a deadbeat in comparison. The scheme works too well, since Patrick, being such a hopeless variant of this trope in reality, actually starts to believe the act as well, and turns into a condescending bully towards Spongebob.
Meg in Family Guy, while initially just an out of luck normal schoolgirl, more and more gags were created concerning her supposed repulsiveness and unremarkable qualities compared to her otherwise dysfunctional family. As the show became more and more of a Crapsack World, this trope actually got reversed in some aspects, showing that Meg, amidst what the universe enforces her to believe, is one of the few redeeming and talented people in a world of immoral deadbeats.
Antoine in Sonic Sat AM. Nearly all the Freedom Fighters are given token flaws and insecurities, however Antoine represents nearly all of the cast's key shortcomings, albeit Up to Eleven and with few of their redeeming aspects (in particular he is a Shadow Archetype for Sonic). The more comical second season shown a bigger focus on the cast's goofy qualities (eg. the incredibly klutzy Dulcy was introduced, while Sonic himself became more idiot prone and arrogant to complement Sally's tact and logical persona) leading Antoine to play this trope to ridiculous lengths, barely able to move or speak without doing something incredibly stupid or obnoxious.
DuckTales: Major Courage served as this for Launchpad; Launchpad may be a bumbler, but he's still a fairly competent pilot(bar some crashing issues). Courage, on the other hand, is a TV star first, with no actual experience flying.
During the first season Huey, Dewey and Louie had a friend named Doofus, who was overweight, clumsy and cowardly.
Vernon Fenwick (and to an extent the rest of Channel Six's team) was arguably this to April O'Neil in the original 1987 series. Despite being a recurring Damsel in Distress for the Turtles, April seemed more capable as both a heroine and a reporter next to Vernon's sissy weasel qualities.
Oscar Proud from The Proud Family, every success the family makes, he is excluded from it.
Milhouse in The Simpsons, and almost half of Springfield's population make the other half look better.
Bart has a tendency to play this role in recent episodes, especially when he's paired up or against Lisa.
The majority of the time, any episode that focused on the potential talent of Marge or Lisa usually punctuated it by having Homer or Bart acting moronic alongside them. This form of Positive Discrimination became so consistent that the show more or less canonically established that a family gene dooms all Simpson males to biologically devolve into Straw Losers for the females (almost all of which grow up to be intellectual and gifted successes).
Martin is this to everyone in school, and is on the same level of lameness as Milhouse.
Only in terms of popularity however. Concerning intelligence and good grades, Martin is partially a "Straw Winner" to underachiever Bart (especially in early episodes like "Bart The Genius" and "Bart Gets An F"). Ralph and Milhouse have Martin's dorky loser qualities but little of the intelligence however.
Though there are occasional Hidden Depths, Barney Gumble and the rest Homer's bar mates tend to come off as this.
Rigby from Regular Show is the bigger loser of the show's two main characters.
Camp Lazlo Edward who has the worst luck of the scouts. Even though he won in a race his first place trophy was small compared the the bigger second and third place trophies.