I admit, I don't know what I'm talking about. I've never been laid.—Dorkwinkle, Power Up Comics
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".
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.
No real life examples, please; real people are not crafted for a specific purpose.
- Dallas Genoard of Baccano! spends most of his time being so much of an asshole that the sympathetic mobsters look nicer, and being such a loser that the heroic sociopaths of the cast look cooler.
- Clannad - Tomoya has his eternal buttmonkey Sunohara hanging off him—a foil whose job it is to suck.
- Until they Took a Level in Badass in "Best Wishes", Team Rocket of the Pokémon anime had been this trope for quite a while. Need a newly introduced character (from Gym Leaders to just skilled normal trainers) to show their skill? Have them beat up Team Rocket!
- 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.
- 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 prompt parodies.
- Another wireless company has taken to blatantly ripping off Mac's approach by showing their rep as the hip, cool guy who connects the spokeswoman to the hip, cool hip-hop concert while the lame, middle-aged, dorky competitor whips out a synthesizer and starts playing "The Final Countdown" by Europe. What a hip and cool wireless provider, huh? 'Cuz there's no way any of their potential customers might actually prefer that sort of thing to "Generic Hip-Hop Song #52,636," after all.
- 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"
- Even the original sparked similar reactions. If you were interviewing someone for a job, and the guys playing Mac and PC showed up, which one would you lean towards? The rumple-haired slacker in baggy jeans and a T-shirt, or the guy who bothered to put on a suit and a tie and probably has some work experience? The commercial basically equates Macs with unemployed young slackers and PCs with people who are likely to have jobs.
- 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 Young Jimi 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. 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.
- Meet the Robinsons - The Bowler Hat Guy is an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain who lives in a run-down building, never showers, never thinks his evil plots through, and still has the handwriting of a kid. This is deliberately done to show that he has never mentally moved on from one traumatic incident in his childhood.
- Elvis 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.
- Sometimes beginner screenwriters tend to do this—where instead of writing a standard hero with a combination of strengths and flaws, they will have a statically perfect protagonist with an overly-flawed, meant-to-be-unlikeable associate who is always wrong and needs to be put in their place and learn their lesson. Said lesson usually involves the designated scapegoat realizing how awesome the protagonist is compared to them.
- Robert A. Heinlein likes to double up The War On Straw by making sure his Strawman Political is also an unimpressive, uncool human being, as does Ayn Rand.
- How so?
- Harry Potter
- Peter Pettigrew in, who is consistently portrayed in flashback as being a wimpy weasel who wets himself 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.
- 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.
- 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, 7th 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.
- In terms of pure Flanderization, this explains why Chelsea on That's So Raven ends up carrying the Idiot Ball so much.
- 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. The same dynamic existed between Jazz on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Carlton and Will. Carlton was kind of stuck-up but in comparison to Jazz, at least he had it together more.
- Lampshaded by Eddie himself:
"I gotta get me some new friends."
- And Harper on Wizards of Waverly Place seems to exist to sport ultra-dorky outfits so that Alex can look fashionable by comparison. 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.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - 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.
- In general, Nerds in high school sitcoms fall under this. Saved by the Bell was a particular offender, where the nerds were treated as subhumans who existed to be mocked and provide entertainment for therein for the main cast.
- Degrassi the Next Generation - Wesley (who is definitely not that Wesley) to his Black and Nerdy friends Dave and Connor.
- Lt. Randy Disher on Monk.
- 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 with no life. The joke, essentially, is their continual to failure to notice that he's actually a perfectly normal middle-aged guy who has his life more together than any of them.
- 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.
- Trina Vega on Victorious. Unattractive despite being portrayed by Daniella Monet? Horrible Singer? Ego too big for her actual talent? Disliked by the main cast? Her parents preferring her sister over her? She practically exists just to show how better Tori is by comparison.
- Discussed in Blackadder II:
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 Office, the employees find a 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 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 not knowing 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The popular 1990s kids' magazine Disney Adventures would feature as one of their monthly columns a "cool"/"not cool" comparison chart, based on a poll taken at a different American middle school or high school every week. (Don't think too hard about a mainstream magazine trying to tell you what is "cool," by the way.) At one school, the examples of "uncool" things given by the kids included Barney the Dinosaur, golf, bell-bottom trousers, and the expression "Cosmic!" (which, believe it or not, was an actual slang word back in the late '80s and early '90s). So, one of the magazine's artists summed all this up by creating a Straw Loser collage depicting Barney playing golf in bell-bottoms while saying "Cosmic!"
- 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 its just to get a butt-kicking by his opponent and humiliated thoroughly.
- This element of Dan can also be used strategically to transform him into a Lethal Joke Character, and later incarnations are Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass.
- 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.
- 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"
- 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 Live Lazy 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 The Fool against him.
- Despite her actress providing backup vocals for a few songs