Before the summer of 1997, the acronym "MIB" and its meaning were primarily known only to those with a keen interest in ufology, the study of UFO sightings. MIB, short for Men in Black, referred to an obscure category of phenomena associated with UFO sightings. These enigmatic, sinister figures dressed in all black would intimidate witnesses of UFO sightings, particularly those who managed to take photographs of the phenomena. These Men in Black often posed as government agents, confiscating photos and negatives, and coercing witnesses into silence.
The MIB phenomenon can be traced back to the early 1950s and has its roots in various folklore traditions. As UFO sightings increased during the 1960s, numerous UFO researchers claimed MIB experiences. MIBs were often reported to arrive unannounced at the homes or workplaces of selected UFO witnesses and investigators. These mysterious figures seemed to possess an omniscient air, knowing more about the individuals than the average stranger possibly could.
In the mid-1960s, MIBs often identified themselves as military intelligence personnel, usually representing the Air Force. Some even referred to them as "strong-arm agents," appearing like gangsters or international terrorists and spies, reflecting popular culture's fascination with figures like James Bond 007.
However, various aspects of their stories suggested they might be more akin to automatons or robots than government agents, with their strange appearances, mechanical gestures, and disjointed speech. For decades, many ufologists dismissed these stories as figments of people's imagination or the work of unscrupulous authors spreading fabrications.
Despite the skepticism surrounding MIBs, testimonies of encounters continued to accumulate, with reports emerging from various countries, including France and China. However, the subject did not gain widespread credibility, as UFO-related phenomena often evoke strong, irrational rejections.
In 1997, Steven Spielberg's film "Men in Black" was released, featuring heroes in dark suits who bore little resemblance to the MIBs reported in ufology, apart from their attire. The film completely diverted the meaning of the acronym "MIB" from its original context. This represents an example of anti-folklore, where popular culture co-opts and distorts a topic, obscuring its original meaning and diluting its significance.
The film's release had an unfortunate consequence for ufology. Discussing MIB sightings became not only difficult but nearly impossible without provoking mirth due to the film's comedic take on the subject. While the original MIB stories can still be discussed within ufology circles, it has become much more challenging to broach the topic with the general public.
Some have even speculated that the film's release might have been a deliberate attempt to make the public immune to the notion of MIBs as part of the UFO mystery. Any internet search for MIB encounters is polluted with references to the film, making it a difficult subject to research in the contemporary world. As the MIB topic has never been systematically studied by either mainstream or fringe academia, very little is known about its true origin and purpose,
The majority of folklorists and behavioral scientists work within the paradigm of scientific materialism, which tends to dismiss anomalies challenging established paradigms, such as stories of miraculous healings. However, there is a considerable body of data that challenges the adequacy of the existing paradigm, raising questions about its validity and presenting exciting possibilities for revising the dominant model (Rojcewicz 1990).
Folkorist Peter M. Rojcewicz observes that reality claims of anomalous beliefs are profoundly important, especially since they are held by a majority of the world's people despite being contradicted by most academics. Studies of phenomena such as stigmata, out-of-body travel, near-death experiences, and the classical Nightmare have provided evidence that some anomalous beliefs are products of accurate observations analyzed reasonably. Rojcewicz emphasizes the importance of inquiring into the reality of anomalous truth-claims as part of the folklorist's professional responsibility (Rojcewicz 1990).
Rojcewicz maintains that MIB encounters are a discrete phenomenon, with a “stable structure of phenomenology”—
While mention of MIB encounters is most often found in the literature of UFOs (Rojcewicz 1984), they can also be found in accounts of ghosts (Royal and Girvan (1976] 1986,8-10), devils (Scot (1584) 1972, 86), werewolves (Summers 1973, 232-4), bedroom apparitions (Keel 197_0,188-94), manifestations of the Virgin Mary (Evans 1984, 136-7), and the mystical tradition of the "Brothers of the Shadow" (Blavatsky (1877] 1972,I, 319). (Rojcewicz 1990)
History of the MIB
“The deuell was cled in ane blac goun with ane blak hat vpon his head... His faice was terrible, his noise lyk the bek of ane eagle, greet bournyng eye; his handis and leggis wer herry, with clawes upon his handis, and feit lyk the griffon.”
—The History Of Witchcraft And Demonology, by Montague Summers
John A. Keel, who kept the flame of Men in Black research alive throughout the 1970s and 80s, and coined the widely used acronym MIB, devotes a good portion of his classic The Mothman Prophecies to encounters with the Men in Black. He states that,
“While chimeras can come in all sizes and shapes, ranging from twenty-foot giants to animated tin cans only a few inches in height, the most fascinating type is one who has appeared in almost every country on earth. In other ages he was regarded as the devil incarnate. He dressed in black and rode a black horse. Later he arrived in black horse-drawn carriages, even in hearses. Today he steps out of flying saucers in remote farm fields. He is built exactly like us, stands from five feet six inches to six feet tall, looks very human but has high cheekbones, unusually long fingers, and an Oriental cast to his features. His complexion is olive or reddish. He speaks every language, sometimes mechanically as if he is reciting a memorized speech, sometimes fluently. He has trouble breathing, often wheezing and gasping between words. Like our dinosaurs and hairy bipeds, he often leaves a few footprints behind... footprints which suddenly end as if he had vanished into thin air.”
It is interesting that Keel uses the term “chimera”, because that is how many cultures portray demons or the Devil. Reginald Scot’s decription of the Devil conjures a stereotypical image: “an ouglie divell having hornes on his head, fier in his mouth, and a taile in his breech, eies like a bason, fanges like a dog, clawes like a beare, a skin like a Niger, and a voice roring like a lion.” Even more interesting is the remnant of black skin in is description, because before the red, chimeric devil meme was propagated, the Devil in medieval and early modern Europe, especially in documents associated with witchcraft, was quite often described as a man in black.