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Netflix series gives sociology instructors a world-wide audience

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Apr 19, 2018

“The Toys that Made Us,” a new Netflix series that premiered in December, is helping give John Tenuto, a College of Lake County sociology instructor, world-wide recognition as an expert on the history of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” and their collectible toys. Tenuto appeared in a “Star Wars” themed episode of the series in December. Interviews filmed last March with Tenuto and his wife and fellow CLC sociology instructor, Maria Jose Tenuto, will be featured in an episode about “Star Trek” collectibles airing later this spring.

Discussing the collectible toys and the sociological implications of collecting has allowed Tenuto to reconnect with former students and attract fans from across the pond, he said.

“For example, my brother Jim was in London at a business meeting with an associate, who said, ‘There was this bloke on a Netflix show I was watching, and he had the same last name as you.’ Jim said, ‘That’s my brother!’”

Photo of Maria Jose and John Tenuto in their Star Trek roomTenuto said his appearance on “The Toys That Made Us” has allowed him to reconnect with former students. “What a great feeling! At least eight former CLC students have contacted me through social media,” Tenuto said. “It’s interesting to see what career fields they went into, and it was great to catch up,” he said.

“Another surprising thing resulted from a scene where I was asked why people collect. I explained that it’s a normal human and healthy experience to express who you are through some sort of a collection. I said: ‘Toys are a tangible symbol of their love for something that isn’t real, that has no shape or form in actuality. It’s a very human experience to need to touch and to feel and to see a thing in order for it to really have meaning. Otherwise, it’s just an abstraction, which is why everything that is abstract winds up getting some physical symbol.’”

Tenuto said he’s been astonished at how many times the quote has showed up on the internet. “It’s been a rallying cry that paints collectors in a positive light and makes collecting out to be a normal human activity, according to research. It has appeared on art, toy and collector blogs and has been translated into other languages on social media. I’m amazed that the ‘Toys’ show has had a worldwide attraction. I’m always looking for ways to bring sociology to people. That’s why I use popular culture to study sociology. I hope it will resonate with people and offer them a new way to look at things. That was the best reward; that people in different countries have gotten to know what we do at CLC and our work as sociologists.”