The legacy of 'men' in black


They are super-secret agents who sacrifice their identities and dedicate themselves to safeguarding humanity from extraterrestrial activity, all while operating undetected in the background of a society they are sworn to protect.

Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, Men In Black 3 is the new installment of the science-fiction film franchise in which “MIB” agents routinely save the planet from alien threats. In the latest entry, which is heavy on time travel, agents J (Smith) and K (Jones, and Brolin as the younger incarnation of the character) rely on shiny weapons to get the job done. And to keep the average citizen from freaking out about aliens, they occasionally have to erase memories using their handy gadget, the neuralyzer.

But don’t confuse the heroes of the Men In Black movies with the nefarious men in black suits that occupy a far larger space in the consciousness of people who believe in aliens and UFOs.

The source material for the Men in Black movies was Lowell Cunningham’s early '90s comic book. The comic portrays MIB as agents who track paranormal happenings and murder witnesses to contain a situation - obviously the funny good guys of the movies are a departure from the original.

The comic's treatment hews closer to other MIB theories found in popular culture (and we’re not talking about Johnny Cash or Jacob’s brother from Lost).

The MIB were popularized in Gray Barker’s 1956 book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. Barker's MIB emerge in 1947 after a UFO crash in Maury Island, Washington, which coincides with the “Roswell Incident” in New Mexico. These MIB would collect data about UFOs and alien activity and threaten witnesses to keep quiet about what they saw.

Thanks to their uniform of dark suits with ties, sunglasses and hats, American folklore has proliferated the belief that MIB were federal agents. Some stories claim people encountered MIB that were also extremely pale, lacked eyebrows, and used odd speech patterns (in a very Fringe kind of way).

Even the descriptions of not-quite-right MIB - like the diminutive one with the cackle who may have appeared in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, around the time of the Mothman sightings in 1966-67 – convinced believers that if they weren’t feds investigating extraterrestrials, the MIB were aliens themselves.

Other theories within the UFO subculture posit that MIB are time-traveling or inter-dimensional beings popping in to observe (or warn, or control) us. The supernaturally inclined even speculate MIB could be demonic manifestations or Shadow People entities that have appeared to humans throughout history.

Whether they are identified as evil agents, aliens, demons or G-men, the MIB are a recurring archetype within entertainment, and are rarely portrayed as benevolent. As a character trope, they resonate with pop culture junkies because they are the personification of shadowy forces at work. Moreover, they represent a mysterious, yet powerful, “Them.”

Dressed in funereal fashion, with dark sunglasses that prevents eye contact – and thus human connection – they are never like “Us.” It makes sense, then, that some of the best MIBs in pop culture are either alien or inhuman. And when they are human, they are operating outside the law.

If the MIB do exist, they are hiding in the shadows. Still, they can be found everywhere in pop culture, and these are their 10 best appearances.

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