A character who exists to provide a flattering contrast to the audience by being worse than them 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 thinks "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 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 because they, in at least one respect, are 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.
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).
- 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, among other Christian writers, believed that the saints in Heaven will be able to observe the torments of the wicked in Hell and rejoice in them, "insofar as by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy." Tertullian, an ecclesiastical writer during the time of the Roman Empire, wrote in De Spectaculis about this, stating that being in Heaven and watching the damned in Hell is a much greater joy than Roman spectacles like the circus, theatre, or stadium.
- Every single guest on The Jerry Springer Show, and the UK equivalent Jeremy Kyle.
- Hopeless Auditionees on any TV Talent Show (for instance, American Idol).
- All of the main characters of 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.
- MADtv (1995) has the skits of The Depressed Persian Tow Truck Man, who constantly say things about how his life sucks, that people he's talking with feel better about themselves as their lives aren't as bad as his. One skit has him be part of a therapy group, where him talking about his crappy home life, makes the other members feel better about their lives.
- Harry Kim's job on Star Trek: Voyager was basically to make everyone else on the USS Voyager look better. Garrett Wang didn't really get to act muchnote , and his character wasn't allowed to accomplish anything, or get what he wanted, or have a love life to speak of, or get promotednote , and even things that would pass without comment on any other Trek series got him into troublenote ; meanwhile, his character's best friend, Tom Paris, was The Ace with skills in literally every field of human endeavour and, by the end of the series, a wife and the beginnings of a family. And even despite this, he still ended up more popular than Neelix, which only goes to show that having someone be dumped on constantly for seven years can still earn a certain measure of sympathy.
- In Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray Barone makes an enormous blunder when stuck for a blank videotape in a hurry to record that year's Superbowl. He ends up using his own wedding videotape. Despite, as wife Debra tells him at great and furious length, it having a massive label on it that says "Our Wedding" in 108-point font. His father reflects later note that wherever men are gathered together who have done dumb bone-headed things to aggravate their wives, however dumb, however stupid, they can take comfort in saying
Well, at least I didn't pull a Ray Barone!
- The Inbetweeners follows the misadventures of four teenage boys who constantly fail at getting laid or being cool. Among their group is a pompous twat who kisses up to all the adults, a short-tempered lad who constantly fails at impressing the girl of his dreams, an idiot whose parents split up because his dad's a homosexual and a sex-crazed compulsive liar.
- 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."
- Overwatch has a Metagame example in Sombra. When she was made available to play, fans found that she has a very high skill floor; good Sombra players can use her hack-based skills to interfere with the enemy team's effectiveness, but bad Sombra players, who are everywhere, contribute virtually nothing of value, not helped by her main weapon being rather low on the damage side. This trope comes into play with accounts of some Sombra players being told to switch to Hanzo (a snipe-based Hero), who was previously the meta's Memetic Loser and face of "awesome but misused character" (i.e. even if you're playing poorly as Hanzo, he's still more effective than Sombra at low-level play).
- Fate/stay night has the very infamous example of Shinji Matou, a character who believes himself to be more important than he really is. While he is a hit with the ladies at school, most important female characters want nothing to do with him, his magical capabilities are at an absolute zero, and often resorts to cowardly and despicable acts to get what he wants. While there is no shortage of monstrous villains, Shinji stands as being the most pathetic of them all. So much so that in Carnival Phantasm, his sister Sakura outright states that he only exists to make everybody around him look good.
- He indisputably crosses the line from this into flat-out Hate Sink in the versions of the story where he is revealed to have raped Sakura in the past, albeit under the influence of their sadistic grandfather.
- The Crestfallen Warrior in Demon's Souls and his various counterparts in the Dark Souls series serve as a reminder of what you essentially are if you give up on trying to beat the game. They started out on a quest not unlike your own and died enough times that they lost their nerve to go on. The one in Demon's Souls even invites you to cop a seat next to him, saying "We can sit here forever." In other words, This Loser Is You...but only if you let the game get the better of you. On a broader level, "going hollow" in the Dark Souls universe—becoming a mindless zombie—is implied to be the fate of players who give up on the game, as undead remain sane only as long as they retain some sense of purpose and the will to press on.
- 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."
- Barney Gumble from The Simpsons, is meant to be even more of a Straw Loser than Homer is. Subverted in that Barney makes an effort to get clean and sober (although he does fall Off the Wagon every now and again). He's been Out of Focus in more recent seasons, because, with his recovery efforts, he does not fulfill his Expectation Lowerer role anymore.
- As well as some parental groups not understanding or tolerating the implication that such a roaring drunk could have an artistic side.
- The same show also gives us "doin' a Homer" for any action or deed or remark which is so completely outrageously unbelievably stupid that there is only ever one person who could conceivably behave that way. The phrase, in fact, becomes so widespread In-Universe that it gets into Webster's Dictionary.
- Carl of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Fat, balding, ugly, hairy, a slob, a perverted sleazeball, and beyond.
- SpongeBob SquarePants is not the brightest bulb in the circuit by any means, but compared to Patrick, he looks like a genius.
- Squidward is a lame-o who thinks of himself as an underappreciated genius when he is living a lousy life as a cashier at the Krusty Krab, and his talents are mediocre to horrendous. He basically makes everyone else's life look happier than his dead-end career.
- Richard Watterson on The Amazing World of Gumball seems to have the sole purpose of saying and doing things so stupid even Loser Protagonist Gumball sees how dumb they are. Notably, Richard, unlike Gumball, is such an idiotic loser that things often actually work around to his advantage precisely because of the fact that no one expects anything of him, so in a way, by making Gumball (and by extension the audience) seem like less of a loser, he makes Gumball look like more of a loser.
- Moral Orel has Clay Puppington, an abusive, self-destructive, hypocritical, alcoholic Attention Whore who hates everyone and everything, especially himself. Deconstructed in season 3, when his dysfunction gradually alienates every single person in his life.
- Beavis And Butthead are impossibly stupid, ugly and live in squalor. They're also very self-centered and mean-spirited, so the sight of them either failing or even betting badly injured feels satifying to watch.
- Koala Man: Kevin Williams aka Koala Man sees himself as an Aussie Batman, but in reality he's a pudgy, balding dork wearing a knitted mask and a blanket that's barely tolerated by his community. Koala Man's brand of heroism amounts to little more than checking the townsfolk adhere to proper regulatory guidlines. What's more, this isn't because he's got nothing better to do, as plenty of superhero-grade threats appear in each episode, but Koala Man is too anal retentive to be of any use.