Summary: An overview of common aspects of Men in Black, including appearance, typical encounters, and examples of cases.
Often described as having olive complexions with Asian or Gypsy- like features. Eyes are often described as strange, sometimes glowing.
New black suits, black hats and sun glasses. Clothing is sometimes described as being made from a strange material.
MIBs tend to speak in a monotonous, mechanical tone, often with a strange accent. Witnesses have reported that their sentence construction and choice of words was peculiar.
MIBs , traveling in groups of up to three, usually visit recent UFO witnesses and warn them not to report their encounter. They often claim to represent some government agency (which invariably proves to be false) and briefly flash official-looking ID. Those visited by MIB often feel ill afterward, sometimes for days.
Aliens or agents of the government? Or is the Men In Black phenomena an example of a modern cultural archetype? Analytical psychologist Carl Jung has shown that similar archetypes are universal and reoccuring in the human experience.
In 1953, the two hundred-odd members of the International Flying Saucer Bureau were taken aback when they received the October issue of the organization's journal, Space Review. In it, IFSB founder Albert K. Bender announced that he had been given the solution to the "mystery of the flying saucers" and that he would like nothing better than to publish the information, however he had been strongly advised against doing so by a "higher source." He went on to urge those who planned to continue their research into UFO phenomena to do so with extreme caution. He then folded the IFSB and shut down publication of Space Review. (Co-incidentally, the IFSB and Space Review had been losing money at an impressive rate up to this point.)
When questioned about this state of affairs, Bender would say only that he had been visited in September by three "members of the United States government...wearing dark suits" who fully briefed him on the subject of flying saucers and then proceeded to threaten him with prison time if he ever repeated a word of what he had been told to anyone. Bender spent the next ten years carefully avoiding all questions on the matter. Over time, Bender's reticence on the subject--coupled with the exploitation of it by the IFSB's chief investigator, Gray Barker, in his sensationalistic 1956 book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers-- gradually gave rise to the notion that the three "men in black" had not been government agents at all, but rather were aliens themselves.
Bender more or less confirmed these suspicions when, finally, in 1962 he published a book detailing his experiences called Flying Saucers and the Three Men. The book was, to put it mildly, totally implausible, involving (among other things) tales of Bender's being taken to the South Pole aboard an alien spacecraft and his subsequent surveillance by the extra-terrestrials through 1960 when they returned to their home planet. As untenable as the book was, however, it did have an enormous impact on the "popular" image of the Men In Black (or MIB, as they later came to be known). For instance, in the book Bender claims that the three men he encountered in 1953 had suddenly materialized in his bedroom, a feat US government agents would surely have had difficulty in achieving (at least back in '53). Thereafter the MIB took on a supernatural air.
The Facts of MIB
MIB phenomena is interesting on several levels, so many, in fact, that it is difficult to know where to begin. For instance, on the surface it would appear that MIB is one of those very few legends that can be traced to its ultimate source, i.e. Bender. However, a brief perusal of human history suggests that this might not necessarily be the case. A tradition of MIB-type entities, that is mysterious dark-clothed individuals with sinister intentions, can be followed back to ancient times and across virtually all cultures. At least as far back as biblical times there has been a tradition in the Middle East of men attired in black robes and turbans attempting to lure victims out into the desert for unspecified sinister purposes. Likewise, in central and southern Europe during the middle ages there existed a genuine fear among the inhabitants of those regions of black-clad beings who wandered the countryside performing indiscriminate acts of vampirism on humans and livestock alike. Fairy lore allows for otherwise human-looking fairies who dress in black and delight in causing mischief in the human world. The fact that MIB are often (in fact nearly always) described as having Asian features is interesting in light of the fact that there is a long- standing myth in China, Tibet, and India that a superior race of humans live beneath the surface of the earth who occasionally send "agents" dressed in black to the surface to surveil and/or manipulate human affairs. (This is known as the "King of the World" myth.) Native Americans feared the "Black Man" who supposedly lurked in the forests with malicious intent. There are even what could be considered MIB-type undertones in Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1835 short story, Young Goodman Brown.
So there would appear to be a general precedence, if not an archetype, for the beings Bender described. However Bender can be credited with giving these beings a specific purpose, i.e. discouraging UFO percipients from discussing what they have experienced. What is interesting is that not only did reports of MIB encounters begin to filter in before Bender's book was published, nearly all MIB encounters since have involved people who have never even heard of the phenomenon, let alone Bender.
A "typical" MIB encounter goes something like this: Soon (usually immediately) after witnessing some type of UFO phenomena the percipient is visited by one or more strange men. These men often flash badges, give names, and claim to be from one government agency or another. (Upon subsequent investigation, the names given are invariably absent from the mentioned agency's records and often the agency itself is found not to exist.) The "agents" usually display not only an uncanny knowledge of exactly what the witness has seen, but intimate personal knowledge of the witness as well. They collect any physical evidence of the encounter that the witness may have, such as photographs or residue from a landing site. Even in instances where they do not threaten the witness outright not to speak of his or her experience, the MIB usually manage to make it clear that doing so would not be a good idea. Other times, however, the MIB claim to be insurance salesmen, portrait photographers, or something equally unconnected with the subject of UFOs and never mention the UFO event in question, yet somehow leave the impression that they are associated with it none the less.
MIB tend to run the gamut as far as physical appearance is concerned, however some generalizations in this area can be made. While some MIB are decidedly more human-looking than others, they have been fairly consistently described as being olive- complected and having thin lips, high cheekbones, and slanted (sometimes glowing) eyes. Their height can range from very short to very tall. They often sport garish makeup and bad wigs in a failed attempt to look more "normal." It is usually difficult to estimate their age. Often they move in a "mechanical" fashion and their voice has a machine-like quality. They frequently appear to have respiratory difficulties and seem to be drained of energy over short periods of time. They are usually dressed, of course, in black; most often in out of date suits that appear to be brand new and cut from some strange type of fabric.
MIB usually travel in packs of three, although doubles and singles are not uncommon. They tend to drive large, black American cars such as Cadillacs, Buicks, and Lincolns which are usually at least twenty to thirty years old, yet in mint condition. Often these cars display strange, unidentifiable insignia. An unusual glow, as if from a vapor lamp or the instrument panel on some type of console, has often been reported as illuminating the interior of the vehicle. License plate numbers are usually either obscured or missing altogether, but in numerous instances plate numbers have been recorded and checked out only to show that they had never been issued.
The hallmarks of the "classic" MIB visitation are incompetence and bizarre behavior on the part of the MIB. Seemingly mystified by human ways, they are extremely poor taskmasters in the area of imitation. For instance, they often express amazement at the most mundane objects, such as bowls of jello or ball-point pens (see Mothman), and have been known to ask inappropriate and downright rude questions.
MIB encounters, as one might expect, are actually quite rare. Roughly forty cases in all have been "documented." Encounters that have the slightest hint of credibility are rarer still. Of these, the following cases give a reasonably good overview of the entire subject:
Yangguan, China 1963
Chinese UFO investigator Shi Bo has uncovered a story that, while far from dramatic, raises some interesting questions concerning the exact nature of the MIB phenomenon, for while UFOs (and, to a lesser extent, MIB) have long been a part of American folklore, they have until only recently been a taboo subject in mainland China. When this set of circumstances is taken into consideration with the fact that the witness in this case was a six year old boy, we may justifiably find ourselves wondering how such an event could occur in the complete absence of a cultural point of reference (assuming, of course, that the existence of MIB is not an objective reality).
In Shi's 1983 book, China and Extraterrestrials, he relates the story of Li Jing-yang who, as a six-year-old boy in Yangguan, Shansi province in May, 1963, had an encounter with a UFO. The day after Li had seen " a shining, silvery disc" hanging in the sky while at play with his friends, he was stopped in the street by "a very tall man dressed entirely in black." The man, while pointing to the exact spot where Li had seen the disc, inquired as to whether the boy had seen anything unusual in the sky recently. Li responded that indeed he had, which elicited from the strange man a warning "never to tell anyone else" what he had seen. The MIB then went around a corner and seemingly disappeared. Li claims that this encounter was witnessed by several others who all noted and discussed the stranger's odd, mechanical movements, his automated-sounding voice, and the fact that his lips did not move when he spoke. Thus, in its effort to keep the disc-sighting of Li Jing-yang a secret, this MIB succeeded only in making a spectacle of itself.
Maine, US 1976
Surely one of the most bizarre MIB encounters ever was experienced by Dr. Herbert Hopkins of Orchard Beach, Maine. Hopkins was a psychiatrist with no real interest in UFOs who had been working, by referral, on an alleged alien abduction case. He had been performing hypnosis on a young man named David Stephens who claimed to have had numerous encounters with extra- terrestrials. Hopkins had accumulated several hours of taped sessions with Stephens, but to Hopkins it was just another case.
On the evening of Saturday, September 11, 1976, Hopkins was at home alone (a favorite time for MIB visitations) when he received a phone call from someone claiming to be the vice president of the New Jersey UFO Research Organization (a group that was later found not to exist) and asking if he could drop by to speak with Hopkins about the Stephens case. Hopkins, for reasons he was later unable to identify, agreed. He hung up the phone, went into the hallway to turn on the light, and was startled to see that his visitor was already climbing the back steps and was nearly at the door. There was no way, not if the man had called from across the street, not if he had called from next door, that he could have possibly made it to Hopkins' door so quickly. Though extremely puzzled, Hopkins opened the door and asked the gentleman to come in.
As his visitor took a seat, Hopkins was struck immediately by several things about him. Firstly was his attire which was in impeccable condition and entirely black ; shoes, socks, pants, shirt, tie, jacket, and the round, polished derby hat he wore. Next was the fact that this strange man was completely bald, meaning in addition to lacking hair on his head, he was also missing eyebrows and eyelashes. The man's skin was dead white except for his lips which were bright red. His facial features were odd in general. His nose was disproportionately small and set low and far back. He had a receding chin and instead of having a neck his head appeared to meld with his shoulders. His eyes, though not glowing, were unusual in a way that Hopkins had difficulty in describing.
The stranger briefly outlined, in a mechanical voice completely devoid of intonation or inflection, his understanding of the Stephens case and Hopkins confirmed it as accurate. They then discussed the case in general with Hopkins doing most of the talking. It appeared that the MIB was far more interested in finding out what Hopkins knew about the case than he was in learning anything about it for himself.
Things grew gradually more bizarre with each passing minute. At one point the MIB, who was wearing what appeared to be gray suede gloves, brushed his lips with the back of his hand. When he put his hand down, the MIB's face and glove were smeared with red. Hopkins examined the MIB's mouth more closely and quickly realized that the thing had no lips, just a slit mouth doctored with lipstick to give the most general impression of lips. When the MIB spoke Hopkins could discern no teeth in its mouth.
Apparently satisfied with the information gathered from Hopkins, the MIB changed the subject. He informed Hopkins that there were two coins in Hopkins' pocket (which was correct) and asked him to remove one. Hopkins complied and held the coin, a shiny new penny, in the palm of his hand. The MIB told Hopkins to watch the coin closely. After a few moments the coin took on a "silvery" appearance and then appeared to be going out of focus. It then began to fade and, eventually, disappeared altogether. The MIB informed Hopkins that the coin would never be seen "on this plane" again. He then inquired as to whether Hopkins was familiar with alleged UFO abductee Barney Hill. Hopkins replied that he had heard of Hill, but was under the impression that he had died in the not too distant past. The MIB informed Hopkins that was correct. "Barney didn't have a heart," said the MIB, "just like you no longer have a coin." (It should be noted that Barney Hill actually died of a cerebral hemorrhage.) The MIB then gently suggested that Hopkins destroy any material he had related to the Stephens case.
Hopkins noticed that the MIB's speech was slowing down considerably. The MIB admitted that his "energy [was] running low" and rose slowly and unsteadily to his feet. Hopkins saw him to the door and watched him slowly descend the stairs, placing both feet on each step before attempting to negotiate the next one. He finally made it to the bottom and disappeared around the corner of the house, from which a bright light emanated. Hopkins initially took the light to be from the stranger's vehicle, but he later realized that the light was far too bright and bluish to have come from ordinary car headlights.
Hopkins went back inside, badly shaken and confused. His dog, a normally fearless German shepherd/collie mix, had run into the closet with its tail between its legs when the MIB first arrived and was still there, refusing resolutely to come out. Hopkins sat down at the kitchen table to digest what he had just experienced, but before doing so he pulled his revolver out of a drawer, just to be on the safe side. It didn't take him long to decide what he had to do. He went into the other room, gathered all the material from the Stephens case, demagnetized the tapes, cut them up into thousands of pieces and then, for good measure, burned them along with some other documents related to the case.
When Hopkins' family returned home they could see that he was obviously quite upset. Hopkins related his incredible story which prompted his teenaged son to grab a flashlight and go out to the driveway to look for any evidence of the presence of a vehicle. Sure enough he found caterpillar tractor-type markings in the sand that had blown onto the driveway during a recent storm. The markings were very deep and distinct, but were only about four inches wide and a foot and a half long. What is more, they were directly in the center of the narrow driveway where no conventional vehicle would leave a trace. Mysteriously, while the sand was still in the driveway the following morning and the driveway had not been used, the marks were gone.
As is common following MIB visitations, Hopkins began to have trouble with his telephone. He often picked it up to find the line dead, and his patients began to complain that when they called he either didn't answer his phone or that they would get a voice falsely claiming that his number was out of service. On those occasions when a connection was successfully made, it was often mysteriously broken in the middle of a conversation. The phone company determined that Hopkins' phone line was definitely being tampered with, but were at a loss to explain how or by whom.
On September 24, 1976, less than two weeks after Herbert Hopkins' strange encounter, his daughter-in-law, Maureen, received a phone call from a man claiming to be an acquaintance of her husband, John. The man asked if he and a friend could drop by the house, ostensibly for a social call. John, unable to place the man but curious, agreed to meet him at a nearby restaurant.
At the restaurant John was confronted with a very strange-looking man and his even stranger-looking female companion, both attired in odd-looking, old-fashioned clothes. Despite the fact that John had certainly never met the man before and that there was something inherently weird about the pair, he inexplicably invited them to return with him to his home.
Both individuals appeared to experience great difficulty in simply walking, taking rapid short steps while leaning impossibly forward. The woman's legs, judging from her particularly odd locomotion, appeared to be joined to her hips in a most peculiar manner.
Once back at Hopkins' home, the two put on a bizarre display. While continuously groping and fondling his companion (occasionally asking John if he was "doing it right"), the man proceeded to ask John and Maureen rather personal questions, such as what they read, talked about, and watched on television. At one point John left the room and the man took the opportunity to invite Maureen to sit next to him on the couch. When Maureen declined, her extremely forward guest inquired as to "how [she was] made," and whether she had any nude photographs of herself available. When John returned to the room the woman suddenly (albeit awkwardly) stood up and announced that it was time to go. The man also rose, but moved no further. The woman, after waiting several moments and making no attempt whatsoever to go around her partner, turned to John and said, "Please move him. I can't move him myself." Suddenly the man became reanimated and the two lurched out the door together, one behind the other. Their graceless exit thankfully marked the conclusion to the Hopkins Family MIB Affair.
Philadelphia, US 1980
The following case beautifully illustrates the generally inconsistent nature of the MIB phenomenon. Not only is the MIB in this case disheveled, he also encourages his apathetic host to take a more active interest in UFOs!
Peter Rojcewicz is a professor of humanities and folklore at Julliard School in New York who also teaches at the C.J. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology. One day in 1980 he found himself in a library on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania browsing through a book on UFOs. The book had been recommended to him by a colleague who erroneously assumed that Rojcewicz, as a folklorist, would be interested in it. At some point Rojcewicz became aware of a wrinkled black pant leg and a scuffed black shoe out of the corner of his eye. He looked up to find a man well over six feet tall and weighing no more than 140 pounds standing before him. The figure was dressed in a black suit which "looked as though [it had been] slept in for three days." The man's shirt was bright white, nearly matching his deathly pallor.
Completely uninvited, the man flopped down in a chair next to Rojcewicz and asked what he was doing. Rojcewicz replied that he was looking at a book about UFOs. The man asked if Rojcewicz had ever seen a UFO, to which the professor replied in the negative. The man then asked Rojcewicz if he believed that UFOs were real. Rojcewicz responded that he really didn't have an opinion one way or another and that, after studying the book in front of him, he realized that he didn't have much of an interest in the subject. The man suddenly screamed, "Flying saucers are the most important fact of the century and you are not interested?" He then suddenly rose as awkwardly as he had sat down and appeared to regain his composure. He put his hand on Rojcewicz's shoulder, said quietly, "Go well on your purpose," and with that took his leave.
Within ten seconds of the strange man's departure, Rojcewicz was engulfed by fear. He believed that he had had a genuinely paranormal experience, and the idea terrified him. He took a walk around the library in an attempt to collect his thoughts. Strangely, he could not find another living soul in the building. He returned to where he had been sitting, absolutely befuddled. An hour or so later he got up to walk the library again. This time everything seemed back to normal.
It was not until later that Rojcewicz heard of MIB. He has since become one of the leading authorities on the subject.