The Real Men in Black by Nick Redfern
Whether people are interested in UFO lore or not, most are at least marginally aware of the phenomenon known as the Men in Black. This is due in large part to the 1997 Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones movie entitled (ironically enough) “Men in Black.” And while the movie was entertaining (which can’t be said of the dreadful sequel), it really didn’t explore the darker and more disturbing aspects of the Men in Black that have been reported for decades. Although Men in Black are mentioned in almost every UFO book or encyclopedia of the paranormal, not many books exist out there that really delve into the history of these enigmatic entities. Nick Redfern’s new book “The Real Men in Black” attempts to tell the strange narrative, from its origins in the 1940s right up until the present day.
Men in Black, simply put, are men (who usually pose as agents of some sort of unspecified government agency) who visit UFO witnesses. They usually exhibit very strange behavior, talk in odd speech patterns, drive older model cars, and generally try to scare UFO witnesses into keeping quiet and handing over any UFO evidence they may have. Oh, and they wear lots of black. Usually black suits, black ties, black fedora-type hats, and even (usually) have black hair.
The first part of the book, called “The Case Files,” details the stories of the Men in Black (or MIB) from their beginnings in era-by-era chapters. Starting with Albert Bender, an occult and UFO enthusiast, and his friend Gray Barker, Redfern delves into the murky origins of the strange visitors who don’t seem entirely human and who seemingly want nothing more than to scare UFO witnesses into silence. Many personal stories are shared, from such well-known figures in the paranormal as Brad Steiger, John Keel and Loren Coleman to the average citizen who witnessed a UFO and had a run-in with the MIB. One of the most famous MIB cases, which was tied directly into the Mothman sightings in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 and 1967, is discussed here, and Redfern even relates the tale of a researcher of the Loch Ness Monster and his meeting with a Man in Black. There is a chapter on the photographic evidence, which contains some photos of some strange men in (well, you know what color) who may be the bizarre agents of UFO sighting suppression or simply men wearing dark suits (how strange, especially in the ’40s and ’50s!). Men in Black reports right up until modern day are recounted, and there’s even a story of a Woman in Black.
Part 2 of Redfern’s book takes a look at the various possible explanations for who (or what) the Men in Black may really be. Hallucinations and hoaxes are explored, mainly because Albert Bender, the impetus for the MIB sightings, was not the most mentally or emotionally grounded person out there. He was prone to hallucinations and flights of fancy, and pretty much obsessed over all things UFO and occult related. Gray Barker and John Keel are suspected to have stretched the truth, filling in some blanks in order to make their stories more dramatic and interesting. And while none of these explanations rules out the possibility that these men were visited by someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there was a paranormal explanation for the origin of these men. That might just be a more interesting explanation. Other rational, earthly explanations include FBI agents and other civilian UFO investigative groups, who were and are known to be very territorial. Taking the evidence and “encouraging” witnesses not to talk to anyone would pretty much ensure that their group got the exclusive scoop on the sighting. The other explanations are a little more “out there,” including tulpas, time travelers and demons. The latter two are pretty self-explanatory, but tulpas, simply put, are beings theorized to be created because a person or persons believes in them strongly enough so that they actually begin to physically manifest, and when belief or interest dies down, they go away. Redfern mentions that this might be an explanation for another enigmatic entity, Bigfoot. It would explain why a body has never been found, but I personally think it’s easier to believe in an undiscovered ape than a physical manifestation of people’s thoughts.
The Good: Nick Redfern presents a thorough history of the Men in Black phenomenon, with many personal accounts, second hand stories and even some interesting (if unconvincing) photos. His writing style is thorough, witty and never boring, always leaving the reader wanting to know what is coming next. For the most part the book is, to use a tired old term, fair and balanced, presenting a number of different theories without really favoring one over the other. Many authors write books in order to push their own agendas, and I can honestly say that after reading “The Real Men in Black,” I’m still not sure what Redfern actually believes. And perhaps neither does he. As one of the few paranormal researchers out there who is proud to say “I don’t know” most of the time rather than saying “this is a ghost” or “this is proof of Bigfoot,” this is a quality I can appreciate.
The Bad: While the book is mostly fair and balanced, there are a few instances where logic should have prevailed and it didn’t. In most cases of anything paranormal or supernatural, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. But in a few instances, Redfern seems to favor a more sensationalistic explanation over a more rational one. It only happens once or twice, and overall doesn’t really tarnish what is otherwise a pretty rational book, but it’s something that I wish was handled with a bit more ambiguity if nothing else.
The Ugly: Most of my issues with this book aren’t necessarily with the book but but with the lore as it’s been presented. Which isn’t really the author’s fault, but it does weaken the case for the MIB phenomenon and raises some serious questions. The fact that the originator of the Men in Black legend was a bit mentally unstable, and those who immediately picked it up after him in all probability hoaxed or exaggerated their own experiences really kills a lot of credibility for the existence for the MIB. While other more credible and trustworthy people have had experiences, it makes you wonder whether the MIB are real or if some higher-ups in government got wind of the silly stories and just ran with it. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, which just muddies the waters even further.
The Bottom Line: If you’re interested in the Men in Black phenomenon and want a thorough and interesting history, then this is the book for you. Well-written, well-researched and with lots of personal accounts from investigators and civilians alike, it’s a great book to add to your library of the paranormal. Some of the theories will be hard to accept or wrap your head around fully, and some are given a little more weight than perhaps they should be, but overall “The Real Men in Black” is a great read.
Final Score: 85%