/ 19 March 2013

Justin Bieber didn’t start the Great Teen Tweet Wars – ask Vera Lynn

A Twitter Music app will be launched for iOS devices later this month
A Twitter Music app will be launched for iOS devices later this month

Ah, teenagers. One minute they're tweeting a death threat to a rival Justin Bieber follower, the next they're moved to tears by the Kony 2012 video. What sort of monster could turn children into such shockingly desensitised soldiers? And – drumroll! – I hear Joseph Kony's a bit of a horror too.

Another week, another eleventy incidents of deranged warfare among the tribes of popstrel acolytes, like the One Direction fan who tweeted a picture of herself meeting a band member, and had the obligatory promises to maim and kill slung her way by little tinkers misusing their study nooks. Some suspect something a bit endtimesy is afoot.

Good news: it's not. As has been the case throughout history, the kids of today are being maligned. After all, it's not as if mad fandom was invented in one of those up-all-night innovating sessions social media firms seem to enjoy. It has long existed, in places people might find rather unexpected.

"Ooh, you don't want to write about Joe Cocker," warned a colleague when I filed some mildly unflattering line about him about 15 years ago. "His fans are mental." Naturally I assumed he was joking – after all, you wouldn't finger the blues rocker for a fan-designated warlord. I was certainly laughing on the other side of a face I was given to understand would soon be permanently scarred when a deluge of threatening letters arrived by return of post. Two of them had razor blades taped beneath the envelope flap.

Since then, every time Cocker's With a Little Help from My Friends comes on, I always hear giant, menacing quotation marks around the words "help" and "friends". It's not Joe's fault, of course – I assume he's either oblivious to, or appalled by, the nutjobs who defend his name thusly – but I do think of those "friends" in the manner of henchmen, whose "help" for Joe would probably involve a considerable amount of physical hindrance to me. That thing Joe does with his hands when he's singing? They interpret it as him conducting the slashes and slices of their ultra-violence. There's not even space to say how it's affected repeat viewings of The Wonder Years for me.

As for other stars whose fanbases seem to have a provisional wing, the list goes on and on. You don't want to mess with Cliff's lot, is the general consensus. Joe Longthorne's bunch would put some hurting on you, no problem. The crazier fans of Daniel O'Donnell … well, I will only say that you are entering a world of pain.

All of which calls into question the strangely prevalent idea that humanity has fundamentally changed in recent years. It hasn't just coarsened, according to this generationally self-important reading: there has been some sort of calamitous fall that has altered the entire psyche of western culture. When is this lapsarian moment supposed to have occurred? Picking through the subtexts of the endless screeds on "broken Britain", you'd have to stick your pin somewhere between the mass availability of the contraceptive pill and the abolition of the death penalty. Thereafter, a species-wide psychochemical reaction began – yet to be blamed on the contraceptive pill being in the water, but give it time – that has caused a wholesale degeneration of humankind.

And yet, and yet … are the diurnal death threats of boyband fans truly indicative of some psychological cataclysm? Or are they, rather like the increase in public drunkenness, merely a comment on the availability of the medium? Just as the drunks on Hogarth's Gin Lane are no different from those whose Saturday night city centre escapades captivate today's media, so yesterday's stars probably inspired the same percentage of mad ones that today's idols do. It's just easier for them to get in touch with each other and for us to see them doing so. (Say what you like about Cocker's lot, they really put the hours in.) With more enabling technology, and if they hadn't been a little preoccupied with other matters in 1941, you'd have had a few Vera Lynn devotees who wanted to scalp some perceived traitors to the old girl.

It's the same with football. Whenever I've wondered pointedly in print whether any of those serried ranks of overcoated and flat-capped football fans in 1950s archive shots were bellowing that they hoped some opposition player's kid got cancer, lots of older readers get in touch to assure me that they heard the most horrid things being said even back then, and that vicious bile is not some 70s bolt-on to the game.

As the Great Teen Tweet Wars rage blithely on, then, the question is not what can be done, but whether anything really needs to be done at all. I suppose Justin could appeal for calm. He won't, on past form, which is perhaps the most cynically troubling thing of all about the phenomenon, indicating how extremely relaxed the record labels are about getting rich off the madness.

On these bi-weekly major flare-ups, the Bieber silence speaks volumes. Fastidious about correcting any perceived media slight on the half-mastedness of his trousers, yet deafeningly quiet on the thousands of threats of homicide that flit between his disciples every day, the only logical conclusion is that Justin loves his fans so much that he's OK with them threatening to kill each other in his name. Which – let's take the positives – brings new resonance to the epithet "pop deity".

Follow Marina Hyde on Twitter: @MarinaHyde