Friday, May 25, 2012

Synchromystic Men In Black

by Loren Coleman ©2012

The posters are a pun. The message they portray is a serious one. But the reality is one of a comedy. If we are to believe the new movie, Men In Black 3 (2012), the darkly-clad government or whatever agents are rather cheerful and go about their jobs with good humor and paronomasia aplenty.

Three Is More Than A Trinity

In this 2012 incarnation of MIB3, there are clearly three men in black, following the motif of the sightings. Of course, within this trio, two of the individuals are the same person, merely in different times. Very synchromystic, actually.
But for anyone who truly understands the darker history of "Men in Black" (MIBs), before their modern deep involvement in Ufology, they were anything but funny.

Three has always been the key. What took them so long?

One of the earliest stories ~ whether it was true or not ~ was of the three silencers who visited Albert Bender. Here is a summary of that case from the Pelicanist:
1953, 16 September: Albert Bender, founder of the International Flying Saucer Bureau, told Gray Barker in a letter, “do not accept any more memberships until after the October issue of Space Review is in your hands.” About the same time Bender told August Roberts that “three men had visited him, and in effect shut him up completely as far as saucer investigation is concerned!” On 4 October Roberts and Dominick C. Lucchesi interviewed Barker, who said that the three men wore “Dark clothes and black hats”, but his usual response to questions was: “I can’t answer that,” e.g. “Q. Do the saucers come from Venus as stated in Adamski’s book? A. I can’t answer that. Q. Do they come from Mars? A. I can’t answer that.” The final (15 October) issue of Space Review contained the statement: “The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known, but any information about this is being withheld by orders from a higher source.” Barker, They Knew Too Much, pp.109-110, 114, 138. In 1962 Bender would relate that three men with glowing eyes had materialised in his bedroom: “All of them were dressed in black clothes. They looked like clergymen, but wore hats similar to Homburg style.” Later he was teleported to a secret Antarctic saucer base. They told him that they were from another star system, they had merely assumed human bodies, being hideous monsters in reality, and were here to extract a chemical from our seawater. Once they had finished this mission Bender would be free to tell his story, as he duly did. Bender, Flying Saucers, pp.74.
One of the most frequent “MIB origins” sentences you will find online is this one: “In 1967, [John A.] Keel coined the term ‘Men In Black’ in an article for the men's adventure magazine Saga, entitled ‘UFO Agents of Terror’.” 
But the facts are a bit more complex. West Virginia UFO researcher Gary Barker’s book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (which was published by University Books in 1956) introduced the notion of the Men in Black to UFO folklore. The follow-up book Flying Saucers and the Three Men (NY: Paperback Library, 1968) by Albert K. Bender, was published by Gray Barker (with Barker’s input and words) through his own Saucerian Books at Clarksburg, West Virginia, in 1962. (The title is infrequently incorrectly given as “Flying Saucers and the Three Men in Black.”)

As Jerome Clark personally told me, regarding the question of "origins": "It is my view that 'men in black' were what Gray Barker wrote about, and that's what he called them. Keel coined the acronym 'MIB' -- different from Barker's enforcers in being otherworldly in appearance and behavior."

For our examination here, it is not important if the Bender story actually happened. In this example, what is more significant is its place in the folkloric men in black accounts, sightings, encounters, and then the chronicles and writings that followed in the wake of this telling of the tale, which evolved into the MIBs.
The world's most thorough ufological historian, Jerome Clark, author of The UFO Book (1997) and his forthcoming Unexplained! (3rd Ed., 2012)has studied the phenomenon of men in black/MIBs for over 40 years. He had this to say about the topic:
First-generation American ufologists' experiences of men in black - as opposed to the MIB who came along later - were the extremely dubious cases of Maury Island and Al Bender, along with the even more questionable Edgar Jarrold "mystery" and Stuart/Wilkinson affair (in both senses of the word "affair"). In retrospect, the bulk of what Gray Barker wrote in the one men-in-black book of the 1950s (They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, 1956) has been discredited. Beyond that, contactee writers such as Adamski and Williamson were using men in black to weave conspiracy theories, based in anti-Semitic literature, about the so-called Silence Group. No wonder sensible ufologists were sensibly suspicious of men-in-black notions.
From Clark's grounded awareness of the MIB "problem," through John A. Keel's demonic view of them, we end up today finding ourselves confronted with a popular culture version of the Men in Black as captured for us by such authors as the late Jim Keith (Casebook on the Men In Black), Jenny Randles (The Truth Behind Men in Black) and Nick Redfern (The Real Men In Black).

The "real Men in Black" or MIBs are not friendly. Not funny. Not full of puns. 

MIBs on Television

One of the earliest televised nonfiction notions of the Men in Black was seen on April 18, 1997, on NBC's Unsolved Mysteries. (It is to be recalled that the first Men in Black movie appeared in 1997, and the sequel Men in Black II, in 2002.)
Staying with television, how did the MIBs become manifest on the highly symbolic program, The X-Files?
Men in Black appeared in The X-Files as the serious "Cigarette Smoking Man" (played by William B. Davis, from September 10, 1993 to May 19, 2002) and as the more comedic MIBs (played by ex-wrestler and former governor Jesse Ventura and, yes, Jeopardy's Alex Trebek) in the dreamlike episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," (1995-96 season).

Also on The X-Files were the Men in Black operatives for an agency known as Majestic 12. One character was named “Morris Fletcher,” played by Michael McKean (who was just critically injured when hit by a car at West 86th Street and Broadway on the upper West Side, New York City, on May 22, 2012). 

“Morris Fletcher” (above) was in charge of keeping Area 51 information secret from the American people, and was credited with coining the term “Bermuda Triangle.” 
The X-Files’ Fletcher also claimed that in 1979, he found a young dinner theater actor named John Gillnitz in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He set him up as the President of Iraq under the name Saddam Hussein in order to distract the American public.

MIBs in Movies

How then has the more sinister form of Men in Black been translated, in this era of synchromystic visualizations, to the canvas of fictional narratives at the movies?
Martin Balsam

An early effort showing the MIBs motif is the Italian movie (set in England) Eyes Behind The Stars (1978). It involves a UFO abduction, a model with photos, and a reporter. What transpires almost immediately is the "Silencers" -- an international secret police force of Men In Black -- try to steal the negatives from the reporter. American actor Martin Balsam plays Inspector Jim Grant of Scotland Yard, sporting, what has been called, "a rather jarring, broad Yorkshire accent." Sergio Rossi, an actor with the same moniker as the fashion designer, plays the leader of the Silencers, and Victor Valente plays antique dealer turned ufo expert with the curious name Coleman Perry. The film's wider impact was small, if none at all.

In the following year, the B-movie The Alien Encounters (1979) appeared with little plot and slower action. Astronomer Alan Reed (played by Augie Tribach) is the focus of the ufo incident. Two Men in Black were included; one was played by the actor Gene Davis (above) and the other by Mark Purdy (also above), who went on to be a well-known sports columnist for the Mercury News in San Jose. Allegedly, the actors were not even required to dress in black for their roles.

Another of the earliest representations of the Men in Black in film is in the underrated, highly political film, The Brother from Another Planet (1984), written, directed and edited by John Sayles. Sayles (on the left) actually plays one of the two on-screen MIBs.  Joe Morton plays the three-toed extraterrestrial who has escaped to Earth and who hides from the MIBs in New York City. It is aliens chasing aliens, and employs a more twisted plot than most other MIBs film detailed here.
MIBs have usually been shown as sinister and foreboding. Here is a quick survey of imagery from a few other fictional motion pictures demonstrating the darker side of MIBs in cinema.

In the movie The Silencers (1996), the Men In Black are depicted as cryptic characters dressed in black, wearing reflective sunglasses, and having pale skin and hypnotic black eyes. They secretly threaten the lives of those who have witnessed UFOs, and then target US Senator Rawlings (played by Madison Mason) who dies despite the best efforts by Secret Service agent Rafferty (played by Jack Scalia) to prevent the assassination.
Soon after the release of The Silencers, The Shadow Men (1997) appeared. It is about three MIBs (played by Andrew Prine, Chris McCarty, and Tom Poster) who visit the happily married couple Bob and Dez Wilson and their 12-year-old son Andy (played by Eric Roberts, Sherilyn Fenn, and Brendon Ryan Barrett) who have had an alien encounter. The Wilsons, after suffering maddening nightmares and more MIB terrors, find refuge at the home of sf-writer Stan Mills (played by Dean Stockwell).
The Strangers in the strange film, Dark City (1998), are the embodiment of the darkest of the dark Men in Black. The appearance of these men dressed in black look hauntingly like John A. Keel's other worldly descriptions of his MIBs.

The next year, the first The Matrix (1999) film appeared. What is often forgotten is that Neo (Keanu Reeves) was first confronted and arrested by three sinister Agents, led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his two sidekicks, Agent Jones (Robert Taylor) and Agent Brown (Paul Goddard).
The Matrix franchise released (first in 1999 and then again in 2003) an army of Men in Black agents who dominated the screen seemingly temporarily. However, the imagery went on to influence human consciousness for years, including at your local high school and college, from Columbine to VA Tech.

The strong twilight language of The Matrix also projects three humans in black as the force to overthrow the Agents.  Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), known as "Neo," Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) make up the triad. Of course, Trinity's name is significant, as, no doubt, are all names in this movie.
What's next? Being in control? Losing control? Being guided? Regaining control?

The Adjustment Bureau (2011), based on Philip K. Dick's 1954 story, "The Adjustment Team," presented a movie with legions of MIBs attempting to have things run the way they want them run. ("Richardson," played by John Slattery, is visible, second from the left in the lower photo of the two directly above.)

MIBs in Mad Men?

The reach of the Men in Black in our popular culture is great. The conditioning is widespread. Several television series have embedded Men in Black characters. They include agents from the following super-secret organizations: NID (in Stargate), Section 31 (in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise), Silence (in Doctor Who), and The Observer (in Fringe). The Gentlemen in black terrorize in Bluffy the Vampire KillerIn the comics and movies, there is S.H.I.E.L.D. 

There are even hints of MIBs imagery and singlemindedness in Mad Men, of course.
A MIB face in the crowd in The Adjustment Bureau turns up as Mad Men's "Roger Sterling" (played by John Slattery, on the right). Subtle scenes are designed with a sense of iconic Men in Black styling.

MIB3 will open to huge audiences, probably because people want a break from the sinister. But remember, deep down, the Men in Black - in the real world, whatever that is - are hardly ever comedians.

First posted on May 23, 2012; updated and revised on May 25, 2012.

"Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see." 
Carl Gustav Jung (July 26, 1875 - June 6, 1961)


Red Pill Junkie said...

Fantastic post, Loren :)

--Any Fortean essay that mentions The Matrix has my 3 thumbs of approval ;)

Red Pill Junkie said...

PS: And, let's not forget that in the comedic cinematic approach to the topic, Will Smith plays Agent J, and Tommy Lee Jones plays Agent K, thus forming the initials of Forteana's favorite demonologist ;)

aferrismoon said...

From the Wiki write-up:

"Agent O, the new Chief after Agent Z's passing..."

Emma Thompson was Dr.Alice Krippen who created a strain of measles to combat cancer but ended up killing most of the planet in I AM LEGEND, in whci Will Smith starred.


Loren Coleman said...

FYI: I've updated this with a hint of the overlapping imagery between The Adjustment Bureau and Mad Men.

Red Pill Junkie said...

There's also The Gentlemen from cult series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Josh Whedon, the new emperor of Geektopolis ;)

Loren Coleman said...

From The Adjustment Bureau:

David Norris: Who the hell are you guys?

Richardson: We... are the people that make sure things happen according to plan.

Richardson: Very few humans have seen what you've seen today. And we're determined to keep it that way. So, if you ever reveal our existence, we'll erase your brain. The intervention team will be sent, your emotions, your memories, your entire personality, will be expunged. Your friends and family will think you've gone crazy. You, well, you won't think anything...

Red Pill Junkie said...

This was my favorite part:

David Norris: Whatever happened to free will?

Thompson: We actually tried free will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman empire, we stepped back to see how you'd do on your own. You gave us the dark ages for five centuries until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought that maybe we just needed to do a better job with teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you raised hopes, enlightment, scientific revolution. For six hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason. Then in nineteen ten, we stepped back. Within fifty years you'd brought us world war one, the depression, fascism, the holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuba missile crisis. At that point the decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn't fix.

Thompson: You don't have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will.

David Norris: You expect me to believe that. I make decisions everyday.

Thompson: You have free will over which tooth past you use, or which beverage to order at lunch. But humanity just isn't mature enough to control the important things.

David Norris: So you handle the important things? Well, the last time I checked the world's a pretty screwed up place.

Thompson: It's still here. If we'd left things in your hands it wouldn't be.
It's my favorite part, because I've often wondered about whether we do have free will or not.

And if someone did lend us a hand in 1963 that averted us from total annihilation...

The Secret Sun said...

Loren, X-Files MIB Michael McKean was just hit by a car in Manhattan and was seriously injured.

VitalemRecords said...

You have to differentiate between those who are pointing a finger, and those who are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference.
But there are two extreme examples:
Zack Snyder's - The Watchmen
and Stanley Kubrick's - Eyes Wide Shut
In typical Orwellian fashion, the titles of the two movies are give away their message.
(Every Zack Snyder movie has "Illuminati" written all over it)

The Secret Sun said...

Here's the reference on the McKean character:

And the news story:

alanborky said...

Loren I'm slightly shocked.

I always thought my one and only encounter with MIB was uncannonical precisely because it involved THREE!

This happened towards the end of the 90s when I was still living in Widnes with my 'wife' and kids (I mention the location because of course Widnes = Wodin!).

Anyway I'm in the kitchen (a location in houses [like toilets] where for some reason I have a lot of my more incomprehensible weird experiences) rocking away like I've done since the day I was born.

The kids're young and rushing in and out endlessly soliciting my attention for all manner of minor reasons and their mother's firing off her usual barbed observations as she comes and goes.

Then all of a sudden I'm suddenly alone for a few moments at which point these three eight foot tall MIB types appear out of nowhere a few feet away from me.

They're wearing fedoras dark glasses raincoats and have greyish sickly complexions with a slight radioactively green hue to them (they remind me a bit in fact of an MIB style character appearing in 2000AD circa the same period).

The thing that most strikes me about them is their appearance seems distorted - as though they're much shorter men whose image's been somehow stretched out.

Anyway they now say to me in cold menacing almost electronically distorted voices "This's what you're up against!"

But somewhere way above me I now hear this other voice say "And this's what YOU'RE up against!" and this giant Monty Python type foot suddenly comes down and squishes 'em out of existence.

I actually found the whole thing so bleedin' hilarious I almost pissed meself from laughing at which point the missus comes in with this look on her face and I say "You're NOT go'n'o believe what just happened...!"

Red Pill Junkie said...

@ Chris Knowles: Thanks for the link! And I hope Michael recovers from the accident @_@

You're right; on the X-Files there were many types of MIB —just as there must be in real life, like Nick Redfern wrote in his book— and Area 51's Morris Fletcher was the only one who openly claimed to be a Man in Black.

aferrismoon said...

Your '& Days in May' post is up at RedIceCreations Quicklinks, just for your info.


which I wonder doesn't stand for

Iacobus Burgundus Molensis [ Jacque de Molay]

Also the I and B staand for Iachin and Boaz , the Twin Pillars.

In hebrew Iachin and Boaz both add up to 79 respectively while together they make 158.

158 = MAZNYN , in English 'balances' thus an explanation of dynamic equilibrium [ or some such stuff] or 'adjustment'.

Perhaps I, B and M are the 3 Men in Black


Loren Coleman said...

I have shortened the name of this essay, to indicate it has been greatly expanded, updated, and revised, based on new additional information. Many thanks to Miguel (Red Pill Junkie), Christopher Loring Knowles, Ole Jonny Brænne, and Jerome Clark. Much appreciation to all of you, and any others who wish to send in more.

Kandinsky said...

I really enjoyed reading this; it's tough to make something so familiar remain interesting but you did so.

Hollywood and Men in Black came together momentarily in Dan Aykroyd's claimed encounter. It happened on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue where he recalls being on the phone and seeing a tall MiB getting out of a black Ford sedan and staring at him. Needless to say, between looking away and looking back - 'it was gone.' His UFO show was cancelled at the same time and he wonders if that was a sign...

Real or not, it's a fine example of the nexus between media and reality; a man who plays other people being watched by people playing the roles of ufological icons. It's symmetrically neat.

Whether this happened in the way he *thought* it happened is anyone's guess. A lot of people go through a patch of having the UFO jitters including all those named in the article. Perhaps Dan Aykroyd had the jitters or maybe it was something more unusual?

CavedogRob said...

Very intresting article but to my knownledge the first mention of Men in Black in a movie would have been in 1979's ALIEN ENCOUNTERS, a super low budget (and boring) Sci-Fi flick that used to show up at 3am on weekends. The two actors in the roles are even credited as Man In Black #1 and #2.

Loren Coleman said...

Thank you, CavedogRob. I've now added material on The Alien Encounters.

However, 1979 still comes after 1978, so Eyes was released first.

Still, I bet there's an earlier representation of MIBs. We just haven't found it yet. Although they may have already found us.


Anonymous said...

Loren, I once attended a lecture the gist of which was that the quantity "three" is somewhat hardwired into us, and especially our culture. I was skeptical until the instructor cited dozens of examples: Man, woman and child, Knife, fork and spoon,and so on. Three MIB seem to fit right in with this theory....Mike O'Brien

CavedogRob said...

You are right of course but the fact that they were actually referred to as MIB caught my eye. Your update on it was great! And who knows there may be some earlier mention of them...somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Hello, Loren,

I remember seeing this Dean Martin spy comedy
from late sixties (1967?). Some elements in the

a flying saucer
international crime organization
oriental looking agents of organization
driving black cars which had the emblem of
lighting stroke inside a triangle (didn´t Keel
write about such a logo somewhere?)