- Written by Jonathan Walker
As our forefathers flocked to the public hangings at Tyburn, so we tune in each week to watch vulnerable youngsters - and a few oldies - being humiliated.
I must confess that I've been an X Factor fan in the past, and I've been following the current season.
But I first began to have my doubts about the show in 2007, when lead judge Simon Cowell humiliated 17-year old Emma Chawner, partly for wearing a hideous dress made for her by her father.
What I couldn't get out of my mind was the thought of her dad sitting at home, creating an outfit for his daughter - presumably they weren't in a position to nip off to Selfridges and put a new dress on the credit card - and the pride she must have felt as she wore it walking in to the studio.
Call me a softy but that warms my heart more than any note-perfect rendition of a Whitney Houston song.
How this 17-year-old girl must have felt when Mr Cowell ripped her apart can hardly be imagined.
Ah, you might say, but she was a terrible singer, and that's what matters most.
But the judges knew she would be a terrible singer before she opened her mouth. The contestants are pre-judged by the show's producers before they get near the actual judges.
Emma, like so many of the screeching no-hopers we see in the early stages of the X-Factor, was chosen to appear on our television screens precisely because she was awful, and her humiliation would make good television.
Last year we witnessed the slow destruction of Katie Waissel, a contestant who made it through to the live show and became the most hated girl in Britain because - well, because of what exactly?
To be sure, if you chose to dislike her then you could find an excuse. She never seemed at ease with herself, and you felt uneasy watching her.
But that didn't justify the hate campaign against her, encouraged by some of the tabloids but waged largely by the show's fans themselves.
This was the ugly side of the Twitter and Facebook revolution, as an online mob ferociously bullied a young woman for daring to go on the telly and sing.
In this case, the X Factor producers cannot be blamed. It was us, the fans, that made Ms Waissel a hate figure.
But the final straw for me came this year when the judges each chose their "final four".
This episode involved each judge sitting down and talking to eight acts, either groups or solo singers. Four of these acts were told they had "made it through" to the live shows, while four were told they were "going home".
In each case, the judge delayed making the announcement for as long as possible. Instead, they stressed that it had been a very difficult decision and talked about the act's strengths - to make them think they might have succeeded - and weaknesses, to suggest that they might have failed.
All the while, the cameras gave us the reactions of the young singers involved. Understandably, they looked stressed and close to tears, and in some cases did start to cry.
Judge Kelly Rowland was particularly brutal. When she rejected an act, she would tell them "I'm sorry . . . " and pause, before giving them the bad news.
But when she had chosen to put an act through, she went through the same routine. "I'm sorry . . . (long pause) . . . but you're going to have to put up with me for a bit longer because you're through!"
Why did she do that? To make them think for a moment that they had failed, so they would shed a tear or two for our entertainment.
Perhaps I'm just a spoil-sport but watching other people made miserable for my amusement no longer feels right.
The X Factor has now entered the "live show" phase of the season, where the contestants sing each week and compete for our votes. At this stage, it does become something like a real talent contest and the worst of the manipulation and humiliation is probably over.
Even so, for the first time since the show began in the UK, I'll be giving it a miss.