A full year before Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones set the temporary standard for what Men in Black should look like and behave, many television viewers had their own version carved forever into their consciousness in the opposing forms of Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek. Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek? Yes, Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek. It was the best episode ever of the X-Files, titled Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, and Ventura’s Man in Black managed to combine both sheer physical intimidation with cosmic flights of verbal fancy. Anyone who saw that episode when it first aired can only look at the Smith and Jones version with a snicker. It’s hard to believe anyone would be intimidated by those Men in Black.
The real stories of Men in Black is often rumored to have begun with the appearance of the Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Other stories take it farther back to the Roswell incident. Indeed, precursors to the Men in Black go well back into pre-American history. The modern day version, however, does seem to have been initiated in the 1960s and, like tales of alien abduction, are typically very similar in detail. Of course, this could very well be because later stories were inspired by earlier reports, but that can’t explain away the stories reported by people in countries around the world who had never heard the stories before. For instance, the Men in Black almost always show up at the door of a person who had earlier reported sighting a UFO. They are dressed in black suits and a white shirt, with black ties and black fedoras. The overall appearance (except for the hat post-JFK) is quite in keeping with the IBM standardized businessman look, or the standard FBI agent appearance. The flash of a badge will take place too quickly for identification and most people are too scared to request to see it more closely.
There are other odd similarities as well. The behavior of the “real” Men in Black is far more in keeping with the Jesse Ventura idea than the Will Smith one. They tend toward melodramatic speech patterns, while also acting rather awkwardly instead of talking and behaving like a socially acceptable rapper. While imposing at first, they generally don’t verbally intimidate upon arrival. First they explain away what the person who reported the UFO actually saw-Jesse Ventura’s MIB said that the overwhelming number of UFO sightings were actually just the planet Venus. After that has been gotten out of the way is when the threats come. Interestingly, these threats rarely are directed at the individual. Instead, most stories of Men in Black arriving end with threats being made against the person’s family or loved ones.
And then there is the car. The infamous black sedan. The really weird thing about the transportation choice of the MIBs is the black sedan is always shiny and appears to be brand new, while paradoxically being a late model car, often a model that hasn’t rolled off an assembly line in decades. American Men in Black prefer Caddies, while European MIBs apparently prefer Jags. Well, Europeans have always been more stylish than Americans. In some stories, the black sedan contains a shadowy third figure that appears even more mysterious as the result of a weird glow that seems to be located entirely within the vehicle.
Explanations? Many have been forwarded. Some believe the Men in Black are nothing but figments of the imagination. Others believe they are covert government agents working for a shadow agency that has no official existence and is sustained by secret funds. There is also the possibility that MIBs are aliens who have taken human form. This idea has been reinforced by the fact that the Men in Black often appear to have slightly slanted eyes like the current trend in alien grays. And then there is another, far more interesting, possibility. Some believe that the Men in Black are nothing more than that, just men in black suits and part of a normal government agency like the FBI. Their appearance at the doors of people who have reported UFOs, it is believed, is part of an extraordinary and long-term psychological study of people who actually have had contact with aliens as the government prepares for the eventuality of having to admit that existence of alien visitors to our planet.