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In American popular culture and UFO conspiracy theories, Men in Black (MIB) are men dressed in black suits who claim to be government agents who harass or threaten UFO witnesses to keep them quiet about what they have seen. It is sometimes implied that they may be aliens themselves. The term is also frequently used to describe mysterious men working for unknown organizations, as well as various branches of government allegedly designed to protect secrets or perform other strange activities. The term is generic, used for any unusual, threatening or strangely behaved individual whose appearance on the scene can be linked in some fashion with a UFO sighting.
Folklorist Peter Rojcewicz compared Men in Black accounts to tales of people encountering the devil and speculated they could be considered a kind of "psychological drama". For example, in the 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, "the black man" is used as a euphemism for Satan who is said to haunt the forest, and Washington Irving's story "The Devil and Tom Walker" includes the character of Satan, named as "the black man". In 1932, H. P. Lovecraft also used the figure of "the black man" in his tale "The Dreams in the Witch-House" as a synonym for Satan.
Men in Black figure prominently in UFOlogy and UFO folklore. In 1947, Harold Dahl claimed to have been warned not to talk about his alleged UFO sighting on Maury Island by a man in a dark suit. In the mid 1950s, UFOlogist Albert Bender claimed he was visited by men in dark suits who threatened and warned him not to continue investigating UFOs. Bender believed Men in Black were secret government agents tasked with suppressing evidence of UFOs. The late UFOlogist John Keel claimed to have encounters with Men in Black, and referred to them as "demonic supernaturals" with "dark skin and/or “exotic” facial features". According to UFOlogist Jerome Clark, reports of Men in Black represent "experiences" that “don’t seem to have occurred in the world of consensus reality.”
In his article, "Gray Barker: My Friend, the Myth-Maker," John C. Sherwood claims that at age 18, he cooperated when Gray Barker urged him in the late 1960s to develop a hoax – which Barker subsequently published – about what Barker called "blackmen", three mysterious UFO inhabitants who silenced Sherwood's pseudonymous identity, "Dr. Richard H. Pratt".
Before the popular Men in Black franchise, the first appearance of Men in Black in film was in John Sayles' 1984 film The Brother from Another Planet. In this film, John Sayles himself and David Strathairn, both credited as Man In Black, are aliens in search of an escaped alien slave (the titular "Brother").
Frank Black, the singer for The Pixies also known by the pseudonym Black Francis, released a single entitled "Men in Black" in 1995 which subsequently appeared on his album The Cult of Ray. He described the song in 1996 by stating that "it's about the Men in Black who are the psychological intimidators sent by the alien or maybe the government or maybe both."
Men in Black (1997), starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as Agent K and Agent J respectively, was based on Lowell Cunningham's comic book about a secret organization that monitors and regulates alien activity on Earth – The Men in Black from Aircel Comics. The film was followed by Men in Black: The Series and its 2002 sequel Men in Black II. Men in Black 3 was released on May 25, 2012. Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, who published the comic book, took the property to Sony to become a billion-dollar film franchise. Will Smith made a song called "Men in Black", for the movie Men in Black in 1997, and "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)" for its sequel in 2002.
In the animated episode "Dreamland" of the British sci-fi show Doctor Who, the Men in Black are presented as androids working for the fictional organization The Alliance of Shades to help cover up the existence of alien life to human society during the 1950s and 60s, eventually becoming defunct in 1972. The Men in Black appear again in live-action in the show's children spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures in the series four story The Vault of Secrets.
Also in Doctor Who, an organization called The Silence exists. Their agents are alien-like humanoids dressed in black business suits. Any person who sees them forgets them right after looking away, leaving only suggestions created by the alien.
In American Gods, some of the New Gods are based on Men in Black.
In the science-fiction film Paul two Englishmen who accidentally pick up an alien in California are chased and harassed by Men in Black government agents.
While the titular organization very much plays the role of Men in Black in XCOM: Enemy Unknown save for the look, the game also includes alien infiltrators (namely, Thin Men) attempting to masquerade as humans in business suits and sunglasses, whereas the EXALT paramilitary operatives introduced in XCOM: Enemy Within only add bandanas and tactical webbing to their business suits before going into battle.