The term Men in Black (MIB), in popular culture, is used in UFO conspiracy theories to describe men dressed in black suits claiming to be government agents who attempt to harass or threaten UFO witnesses into silence. It is also frequently used to describe mysterious men working for unknown organizations, as well as to various branches of government allegedly designed to protect secrets or perform other strange activities. According to UFO historian Jerome Clark, "All MIB are not necessarily garbed in dark suits. The term is a generic one, used to refer to any unusual, threatening or strangely behaved individual whose appearance on the scene can be linked in some fashion with a UFO sighting."
The phenomenon was initially and most frequently reported in the 1950s and 1960s; it is contemporaneous with many other conspiracy theories. According to Clark, the archetypal men in black encounter was alleged to have occurred in 1953, when publisher Albert K. Bender asserted that he'd uncovered the secret behind flying saucers, but had been threatened by three men who wore black suits and hats. Initially, Bender clearly implied the men were U.S. Government agents, but his later accounts blended supernatural features with UFO lore. In fact, Bender himself was initially skeptical of the Men in Black phenomenon and first encountered them "in the flesh" after publishing an account of the Maury Island Incident, which occurred in 1947 when Harold Dahl reported pieces of a UFO fell on the boat he was on in the Puget Sound, killing his dog. The next day Dahl was warned by a man in a black suit driving a black 1947 Buick that he would do well to keep silent about the incident.
Even before the idea of dark men in dark suits, wrap-around sunglasses and driving black automobiles gained any wider currency, General Carl Spaatz, Air Force Chief of Staff, saw fit to tell a press conference in 1948: "There is no truth to the rumour that the flying saucers are from Spain, or that they are piloted by Spaniards. Early reports of Men in Black often described them as men short in stature with swarthy complexions, as if they were deeply tanned. Some reported them as Gypsies. Sunglasses, black suits and black cars have been a feature for the entire period since modern sightings began in 1947.
The term has been adopted as a tongue-in-cheek term in geek culture for any generic suited government/corporate official. This usage has its roots in both the popularity of shows such as The X-Files and UFO culture, and the "threat" to hackers of Men in Black actually coming for them (in the form of the FBI or other cybercrime institutions). John A. Keel mentioned their appearances when questioning witnesses in reporting UFO's.
According to the accounts of those reporting encountering them, Men in Black always seem to have detailed information on the persons they contact, as if the individual had been under surveillance for a prolonged period of time. They have been described as seeming confused by the nature of everyday items such as pens, eating utensils or food, as well as using outdated slang, though accounts on the behavior of Men in Black vary widely.
Accounts indicate that they often claim to be from an agency collecting information on the unexplained phenomenon their subject has encountered. In some cases they are said to use unidentifiable instruments to wipe the memories of their subjects clean, which is unlikely because of the very fact the subject remembered it. While in other accounts they seem to be trying to suppress information by, for instance, trying to convince their subject the phenomenon never existed. They have been described as behaving in either an exceedingly furtive manner or a completely outgoing one, with wide grins and disconcerting giggles.
In the UFO research community the Men in Black often claim to be from the Air Force or the CIA. Those who have encountered them say they produce identification, but when verification is later sought, the people described either don't exist, or they do exist but have a different rank.
Although the phenomenon was initially and most frequently reported in the 1950s and 1960s, some researchers — John Keel
and others — have suggested similarities between Men in Black reports and earlier demonic
accounts. Keel suggests that MiBs are a modern-day manifestation of the same phenomena that were earlier interpreted as the devil or encounters with fairies. Similarly, folklorist Peter Rojcewicz noted that many Men in Black accounts parallel tales of people encountering the devil
: Neither Men in Black nor the devil are quite human, and witnesses often discover this fact midway through an encounter. The meaning
of this parallel, however, has been the subject of debate.
Even so, the term "the black man" was used for centuries in reference to the Devil, up until contemporary times when "black man" was used to replace the term "Negro" and the satanic sense was lost. In witchcraft trials "The Black Man" was often reported as meeting with the accused and having sexual intercourse with them. In Washington Irving's story The Devil and Tom Walker set in 1727, Irving tells how Tom asks "the black man" who he is. The man says he goes by many names and is called the black miner sometimes or the black woodsman. He says that since the Indians are gone, he presides over the persecutions of various religious sects, supports slave-dealers and is the master of the Salem witches. Tom replies that he must be "Old Scratch," which is another name for the devil, and the black man acknowledges that he is Old Scratch.
In 1932, H. P. Lovecraft also used the figure of The Black Man in his tale "The Dreams in the Witch-house" as a synonym for the Devil.
In the Middle Ages The Black Man was not a man with African features but rather a man colored black and dressed in black.
More prosaically, Clark cites Bill Moore
, who asserts that "the Men in Black are really government people in disguise ... members of a rather bizarre unit of Air Force Intelligence known currently as the Air Force Special Activities Center
(AFSAC) ... As of 1991, the AFSAC, headquartered in Fort Belvoir, Virginia
," and "under the operational authority of Air Force Intelligence Command centered at Kelly Air Force Base
." (Clark, 321–22) Curiously, Moore also reports that AFSAC was inspired by the tales of Men in Black from the 1950s, and had nothing to do with those early accounts.
Similarly, Clark notes that Dr. Michael D. Swords has speculated that the Barker/Bender Men in Black case (occurring shortly after the CIA-directed Robertson Panel issued its recommendations to spy on civilian UFO groups) might have been a psychological warfare experiment.
On a more practical note, most US government law enforcement and intelligence agencies such as the FBI have strict dress codes that ordinarily require their members to wear suits in dark, non-obtrusive colors.
In his article, "Gray Barker
: My Friend, the Myth-Maker," John C. Sherwood reveals that at age eighteen, he collaborated with Gray Barker to create a hoax about what Barker called "blackmen," three mysterious UFO inhabitants who silenced Sherwood's pseudonymous identity, "Dr. Richard H. Pratt.
MIB references in popular culture
Radio, film and television
There are many references to the Men in Black in film and television, some oblique and some straightforward.
- The Man in Black was the only identification given to the announcer in the original run of the radio show Suspense, which ran on the CBS network from 1942 to 1962, mimicking the device of The Shadow on the radio program "Detective Story Hour." In later phases hosts were identified by name.
- Perhaps the first film appearance of true MiB is in the 1984 cult film Repo Man by writer/director Alex Cox. The film depicts several men in black suits with names derived by taking the first letter from each actors first name, Biff Yeager as Agent B, Ed Pansullo as Agent E, Steve Mattson as Agent S, and Thomas R. Boyd as Agent T. The well known entertainer, Jimmy Buffett, played an extra MiB credited as "Additional Blond Agent".
- Men in Black of The X-Files
- Men in Black, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as Agent K and Agent J. The film was followed by Men in Black: The Series and its 2002 sequel Men in Black II
- Men in Black is the third Three Stooges short released in 1934, it's name being a spoof on the Clark Gable / Myrna Loy 1934 movie Men in White. It was nominated for an Academy Award, and contained the famous recurring line, "Calling Doctor Howard, Doctor Fine, Doctor Howard."
- The Shadow Men (1998) starring Eric Roberts and Sherilyn Fenn. A family is besieged by a group of Men in Black after accidentally taping a close encounter. This film offers an unusual take on the exact nature of the MiB.
- The Brother from Another Planet (1984)
- The Agents from the Matrix film trilogy.
- In the movie The Forgotten, a man who doesn't dress in the MIB style is seen as one of these people performing an experiment.
- In the 1999 film My Favorite Martian, Ray Walston (star of the 60's TV series which inspired the film) plays an MIB pursuing Christopher Lloyd's alien Uncle Martin.
- In the 2007 movie Transformers, agents of Sector Seven -- a secret organization of the United States government -- are portrayed as MIB's.
- In the movie True Lies, agents of the Omega Sector
- In 2007, a short film called Truth, directed by Nic Collins, also centers around the Men in Black conspiracy, showing the Men in Black as aliens disguised as humans and using intimidation to discredit the witness. Features the Majestic-12.
- Dark Skies (TV series. Also features the Majestic-12.)
- In the 2002 film Lilo and Stitch, the MIB stereotype is used to portray a sinister figure of authority. Here, the tall, intimidating Social Worker Cobra Bubbles is a retired CIA agent who was involved in the Roswell incident.
- In an episode of the television show Bones, Dr. Hodgins -- an outspoken conspiracy theorist -- is arrested for calling in a fake terrorism tip. When Brennan asks Booth if they should step in, he replies that being taken away by Men in Black is Hodgins' dream come true.
- In the TV series Danny Phantom, there are a group of antagonists that Danny regularly fights called "The Guys in White". They are a clear reference to the Men in Black, speaking in a very mechanical, concise way and wearing color-inverted variations of the 'Men in Black' outfit (in other words, a white suit jacket, pants, and tie, and a black dress shirt.) They hunt ghosts instead of dealing with UFOs.
- In Joss Whedon's short lived science fiction television series Firefly, its follow-up film Serenity, and the bridging comic book series Serenity: Those Left Behind, MIB-style men appear wearing Blue Gloves (to which River refers to as “Two by two, hands of blue.”) They also have a device similar to the devices used by the MIB in the 1997 film and its sequel, though the devices have different effects.
- In the animated television series Johnny Test, MIB appear in the form of Mr. Black and Mr. White. They are similar to Agent J and Agent K from Men In Black and it’s 2002 sequel. Ironically, Mr. Black is Caucasian and Mr. White is African American.
- In 2001, the Radio Tales series produced the drama Watchers, an adaptation of H. G. Wells' "The Crystal Egg" story for National Public Radio and XM Satellite Radio, featuring an MIB-style character who purchases a crystal egg after its previous owner dies mysteriously. For a plot summary of the drama, see the adaptation synopsis.
- In the final episode of the 2007 science fiction television series Flash Gordon, MIB appear at Dale Arden’s apartment, they then peruse her and eventually Norah Gordon later in the same episode but lose them as they drive through a rift in Zarkov’s RV.
British rock band The Stranglers
, by their own admission, became obsessed with the Men in Black theory around 1979–81, culminating in the release of their concept album The Gospel According to the Meninblack
. They attributed the many calamities they suffered around the time to the influence of the Men in Black.
Pixies front man Frank Black wrote about alien sightings and Area 51 in his later work with the Pixies, and continued with the topics into his solo career including the song "Men in Black" on the album The Cult of Ray.
The Blue Öyster Cult song "E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)" concerns "three men in black" looking to suppress the discovery of flying saucers. One of them is referred to as "Balthazar", suggesting that the "three men" could really be the Biblical Magi.
Will Smith also made a song called "Men in Black" for the movie Men in Black in 1997.
The Underground Alternative Rock band 9 Second Eternity references Men in Black and the New World Order on several of their lyrics.
Roger Waters' 1987 Wembley performances of the Radio K.A.O.S. tour featured a film sequence dramatising Dr Herbert Hopkins' 1976 MIB encounter with the words: "neither you nor any other… humanoid… will see this coin again".
Michael Jackson wrote a song called Men in Black with Teddy Riley and recorded it in 1990 which was going to be released on the shelved greatest hits album Decade: 1980-1990. And later considered for the 1991 album "Dangerous" and was going to be the first single off the album, but didn't make the cut which was instead replaced by "Black or White".
Books and comics
The Men in Black have been portrayed several times in comics, most notably in Lowell Cunningham
's 1990 Aircel comic book The Men in Black
, later adapted into the two films mentioned above. The British comic 2000 AD
ran a series called Vector 13
where Men in Black acted as narrators for a series of strange tales, at the time when they were portrayed as ousting the editor Tharg the Mighty
Horror author Kim Newman also featured featuring MIB-like characters, known as the "Undertakers" in smoked spectacles, in several of his Diogenes Club stories. The Undertaking is an organisation with connections to the British government, but is often in conflict with the similarly-connected Diogenes agents.
Author David Lynn Golemon wrote a novel, Event, featuring MIB characters.
Irregular Webcomic! also features a Man in Black as a recurring character in the Martians theme. A running gag is the fact that he appears immediately after anyone mentions aliens to convince them that aliens do not exist, sometimes even to the Martians themselves.
Italian comic Martin Mystère features The Men in Black as a secret and ancient society of men aiming to hide knowledge and technology from humanity, waiting for the right moment in the future to unveil them.
The Minutemen of 100 Bullets are styled after the standard black-suit-and-tie of MIB lore.
In the anime Serial Experiments Lain two Men In Black, Karl and Lin, hunt down members of the Knights of the Eastern Calculus, a rogue group of hackers.
Role-playing and computer games also use the men in black, particularly, West End Games
' Men in Black RPG, Delta Green
, Destroy All Humans!
, Mage: The Ascension
, Teenagers from Outer Space
, Deus Ex
, DIB (Duke In Black)
,Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
, Conspiracy X
, and GURPS Black Ops
. Sim City Societies
also features men in black who act as corporate enforcers.
Many characters in video games are also similar to descriptions of Men in Black, one of the most notable being the G-Man from the Half-Life series.
In the game AdventureQuest, the MIB are referenced as N.O.V.A., or the Network of Vespirian Agents.
The game Heroes Unlimited, Re.: Aliens Unlimited refers to these entities.