Like it or not, UFOs have become a firmly entrenched meme in contemporary culture. And the Men in Black (MIB) story has become a significant subtext of that UFO phenomenon. Author Nick Redfern has done a wonderful job of explaining the fascinating and unsettling history behind the Men in Black phenomenon in his new book, The Real Men in Black.
Mention the Men in Black, and most people will think of the Men in Black movie franchise based on the graphic comic book series of the same name. But it's safe to assume that very few of the people who saw those Men in Black movies are aware of the real history and nature behind the Men in Black phenomenon. Leave it to Hollywood to take a potentially serious subject and turn it into a cartoon, albeit a good one.
My first introduction to the Men in Black was back in 1965, when reading the book They Knew Too Much About the Flying Saucers by Gray Barker. Gray Barker is discussed at length in Redfern's new book. Being a precocious twelve year old at the time, and having experienced a number of vivid UFO sightings throughout my childhood, I became fascinated almost to the point of obsession with UFOs. I joined public UFO organizations, attended lectures and conferences, and bought every magazine and read every book on the subject that I could lay my hands on. And I distinctly remember that Barker's book, for some odd reason, made a big impression on me at the time.
Redfern delves into the curious background of a principal character in Gray Barker's book, an eccentric young man by the name Albert Bender, who founded the first worldwide, civilian UFO investigatory group back in 1952, the International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB), and its magazine, Space Review. Bender's groundbreaking group led to a number of spinoff organizations like APRO, CSI, NICAP, and eventually MUFON. Although Albert Bender may have suffered from Obessive-Compulsive Disorder, he still comes across as an intelligent person who was genuinely interested in getting to the truth of the increasingly controversial UFO phenomenon. But it was Bender's menacing encounters with the mysterious Men in Black that eventually led to his undoing and his ignominious exit from the UFO investigation field.
Following the seminal Alfred Bender/Gray Barker MIB story, Redfern covers a number of other fascinating anecdotal accounts of strange Men in Black visitations. Although some of these stories stretch credulity, they have nevertheless become part of the Men in Black mythos. Since all of the MIB accounts are anecdotal, it makes it difficult to come to any conclusion regarding the real nature of the phenomenon.
The MIB phenomenon is joined at the hip with UFO phenomenon. MIBs seem to always appear surrounding UFO events, or among those investigating the UFO phenomenon. And like the UFO phenomenon, it also suffers from its anecdotal nature. But at least in the case of UFOs, there is a wealth of non-anecdotal, physical evidence that makes the UFO phenomenon far more compelling. Photographs, movies, videos, and other physical trace evidence are significant factors in the UFO phenomenon. In the case of the Men in Black, however, there is a paucity of such physical evidence. Apparently, MIBs don't like being recorded by any technology. We are largely dealing with the testimony of witnesses. The two photos taken of alleged MIBs discussed in Redfern's book are certainly not convincing evidence, in my opinion.
The MIB phenomenon can really be distilled down to only one, or a combination of two things: either it is a real, physical phenomenon, some kind of psychopathological phenomenon, or a weird combination of the two. Some speculate that it may be a psychic, or poltergeist type phenomenon. Of particular interest is the alleged ability of some MIB to simply appear and disappear at will. But I would classify that as a physical, albeit a highly anomalous physical phenomenon.
On that physical side of the phenomenon, the MIB appear to be able to assume any number of forms, with either an overt, or implied undercurrent of threat being common to most, if not all of the forms. But as Redfern points out, some of those threatening physical encounters turned out to be nothing more than flesh and blood human government and military agents trying to obtain information, during a period of heightened cold war paranoia, particularly regarding any information citizens might possess about unidentified objects flying around the skies of the United States. Other physical forms of MIB might include everything from sophisticated practical jokers and hoaxers, to parapsychological "tricksters," all the way up to dyed in the wool extraterrestrials, human time travelers, inter dimensional entities, or even demon-like "tulpas," or "djin."
On the psychological side, the MIB phenomenon may constitute an hitherto unknown psychopathology, perhaps some new variation of the folie à deux, or shared psychosis condition. Again, there isn't enough there there to even take things to the next level of investigation.
Redfern does an admirable job of covering this bizarre and controversial landscape in The Real Men in Black. If you read one book on the MIB phenomenon, this is the book to read, although don't expect to be any less perplexed by the end of the book, than you were at the beginning.