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Sociology instructors to appear in new Netflix series about toys

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Dec 14, 2017

“The Toys that Made Us,” a new Netflix series premiering just in time for Christmas, will feature interviews with College of Lake County sociology instructors John and Maria Jose Tenuto, noted experts on the history of both “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” as well as their toys and collectibles.

Photo of Maria Jose and John Tenuto in their Star Trek roomThe eight-part series premiering Dec. 22 examines the social and cultural history and significance of toy lines such as “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” Barbie, GI Joe, Lego® and Transformers. The national spotlight is now shining on “Star Wars,” since the newest film, “Star Wars: the Last Jedi,” premieres Dec. 15.

The Tenutos were filmed last March in their home’s “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” collection rooms, where an eight-member Netflix crew captured extensive interviews, covering topics such as the history of toys in society, why toys are important to children and adult collectors, the 20-year nostalgia cycle and the history of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” collectibles. Their research has been featured on WGN News, Al Jazeera USA News, BBC Radio, Wired Magazine, Chicago Sun Times and USA Today.

John Tenuto, who was called one of the most influential “Star Trek” fans by New York Magazine’s website, has been voted CLC’s outstanding full-time faculty member by students three times. He said the series’ producers were interviewing influential toy designers and those within the collecting community. “Along the way, a fan mentioned us, then the producers called us about getting involved. It was a fun experience, and they seemed to be very interested in our research,” he said.

The couple has given talks on the history of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” at local libraries and at national “Star Trek” conventions and celebrations in Vulcan, Alberta and New York City. They also regularly write for the official “Star Trek” website ( about collectibles and the technical and cultural side of the series.

In the Netflix series interviews, the Tenutos also talked about gender roles and their influence on toys. “For example, the term ‘action figure’ was created for GI Joe in 1964 because marketers didn’t want to call them dolls,” he said. “And ‘Star Wars’ reshaped the industry by introducing smaller action figures and toys.” View a Netflix trailer for “The Toys that Made Us.”

Both Tenutos reference the series in their sociology classes, which helps students remember the concepts better. Maria Jose Tenuto, who has been nominated for CLC’s outstanding part-time faculty award three times and received CLC’s 2016 Values Recognition Award for Learning, uses concepts from both series to address socialization theories in a class she teaches on deviant behavior.

“The characters of ‘Star Wars’ are useful in giving students a relate-able face to abstract theories like those of George Herbert Mead or Sigmund Freud,” she said. “‘Star Trek’ episodes often deal with social and cultural issues. For example, when discussing cultural concepts of good and evil, I ask students first to relate the concepts to the episode ‘The Enemy Within,’ which deals with these ideas. That helps start a conversation where we talk about real-world topics.”

In May 2017, interviews with the Tenutos were included in the Decades network program “Through the Decades: 40 Years of Star Wars” that celebrated the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. They were featured alongside filmmakers J.J. Abrams and George Lucas. “We were happy to be involved because it allowed us to share our ideas and research with many fellow fans,” he said.

To learn about “The Toys That Made Us,” visit To learn about CLC sociology classes, visit Spring Semester classes begin Jan. 16. For registration information, visit