Is reality TV turning viewers into real-life bullies?

TV is killing my social life.

Gone are the Wednesday nights crowded around a table of friends and $2 margaritas.

That same group is now huddled around a television set, watching the latest episode of the O.C.

Trying to get together a group of classmates to go out after "Friends?" Forget it -- "The Apprentice" is on.

Factor in episodes of "American Idol," "Survivor," "Real World," and "Newlyweds," and the week is over.

If I'm reduced to drinking alone, it's not my fault.

Reality TV is breeding a new generation of alcoholics.

Maybe I completely missed the memo on this one, but when did reality TV replace ... well, reality?

I don't know about you, but my reality has never been quite like the shows on TV.

I've never lived in Paris under the watchful eye of MTV's camera. I've never worked for Donald Trump or let roaches crawl all over me for a million dollars.

I did consider living on an island, eating nothing but bugs and appearing at a fireside each week so I could learn who my true friends were.

Then CBS decided to make a show just like that, so the novelty wore off quickly for me.

My main problem with reality TV is not the unrealistic storyline, the backstabbing that takes place or even the addiction that holds my friends captive Monday through Friday.

My main problem is that reality TV is creating a culture of bullies.

Why do Americans enjoy watching people get their feelings hurt?

I'm not advocating that we should all restrict ourselves to feel-good TV like "Full House" and "Leave it to Beaver."

But why are we so fascinated with Simon's aggressive behavior on "American Idol," and why do we enjoy tuning into "The Apprentice" just to hear The Donald boom, "YOU'RE FIRED!"?

Psych majors, help me out here. Explain to me the satisfaction we derive from watching other people suffer.

One might argue that anyone willing to go on reality TV accepts the risk of being humiliated on national television. Apparently, other people are drawn to that risk too -- just look at Janet Jackson and some of the Democratic presidential candidates.

But does that willingness excuse our voyeuristic desire to witness it?

After suffering through several episodes of "American Idol" with my roommates (look, we only have one television set), I am beginning to grasp the point of the show.

It's not about finding the most talented performer in America. It's about watching Simon sarcastically destroy one young artist after another.

I shudder to watch a young woman complete a beautiful rendition of the Vanessa William's classic, "Save the Best for Last," only to hear Simon quip, "Terrible. Come back when you actually have some talent."

Of course, Paula is there to soften the blow with her comments. But let's be honest, no one watches the show for Paul Abdul.

It was all over for her after "Opposites Attract" fell off the pop charts.

But Donald Trump couldn't let Simon have all the fun. He got into the act this season with a new show that chronicles the struggles of young professionals trying to land a job at Trump Tower.

Raise your hand if you watch that show for interviewing tips or advice on dealing with an extravagant boss.

Didn't think so.

You watch the show to see who makes the biggest disaster out of their latest assignment and becomes the object of Donald's angry pronouncement: "YOU'RE FIRED!"

The guilty pleasure doesn't end there. We watch "Newlyweds" to see Jessica Simpson humiliate herself with canned goods. We tune into "Survivor" to watch contestants get voted off the island, and we can't wait to see who's sent packing on "The Bachelor."

Psych majors, I need your help again.

Do we feel better about ourselves after watching someone else fail? Do we feel superior because we can tell the difference between chicken and tuna?

And if we do, what's our excuse?

I doubt we have a good one. After all, America is a country where we excuse our bad behavior by saying, "It's okay, I had Subway."

The networks obviously have found their meal ticket in reality programming. Regardless of the fact that there's nothing realistic about it, we can't get enough.

But, hey, Americans have a reputation for being arrogant and overbearing. Maybe it's time someone tugged on our egos a bit.

But do Simon and Donald deserve that honor?

I don't think I'll ever jump on the reality TV bandwagon. I'll take "The West Wing" or "Law & Order" any day. And I'll take a night with my friends over any show.

But until the fascination with aggression, humiliation and failure ends, I'll be drinking that margarita alone.

It's okay, I had Subway.

Lytle Wurtzel can be reached at Wurtzel@cavalierdaily.com

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