CLC professors' toys featured in Netflix documentaries

  • Maria Jose Tenuto and her husband, John, are considered two of the biggest experts on toys in the country. In December, the Gurnee residents' "Star Wars" toy collection was featured on an episode of "The Toys That Made Us," a Netflix documentary series.

      Maria Jose Tenuto and her husband, John, are considered two of the biggest experts on toys in the country. In December, the Gurnee residents' "Star Wars" toy collection was featured on an episode of "The Toys That Made Us," a Netflix documentary series. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Maria Jose Tenuto is reflected in a mirror featuring famous female characters from "Star Trek."

      Maria Jose Tenuto is reflected in a mirror featuring famous female characters from "Star Trek." Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • John Tenuto and his wife, Maria Jose, are considered some of the biggest experts on toys in the country.

      John Tenuto and his wife, Maria Jose, are considered some of the biggest experts on toys in the country. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • "Star Trek" action figures and other memorabilia line the basement of John and Maria Jose Tenuto's home in Gurnee. The couple have been featured on the Netflix series "The Toys That Made Us." See more at dailyherald.com/video.

      "Star Trek" action figures and other memorabilia line the basement of John and Maria Jose Tenuto's home in Gurnee. The couple have been featured on the Netflix series "The Toys That Made Us." See more at dailyherald.com/video. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • "Star Wars" Pez dispensers sit in the basement of John and Maria Jose Tenuto's house of Gurnee.

      "Star Wars" Pez dispensers sit in the basement of John and Maria Jose Tenuto's house of Gurnee. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • "Star Trek" action figures are part of the toy collection of John Tenuto and his wife, Maria Jose, of Gurnee.

      "Star Trek" action figures are part of the toy collection of John Tenuto and his wife, Maria Jose, of Gurnee. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted4/30/2018 5:30 AM

For decades, John Tenuto, a College of Lake County sociology instructor, has studied fan communities, and for even longer he's been a fan himself. His collection of "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" toys and memorabilia fills two rooms of his Lake County home.

The world got a glimpse into Tenuto's research and home when he was interviewed in front of his "Star Wars" collection for a December episode of the Netflix documentary series, "The Toys That Made Us." The series chronicles toy culture by focusing each episode on one popular character, movie or TV series.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While Tenuto and his wife, fellow CLC sociology instructor Maria Jose Tenuto, have had their work featured in TV documentaries about fandom in the past, they were not prepared for the accolades and attention that came pouring in. One line of John Tenuto's that struck a chord with viewers was about his thoughts on why collecting is so important to so many.

"For collectors, toys are a tangible symbol of their love for something that isn't real, that has no shape or form in actuality," he said in the documentary. "It's a very human experience to need to touch, and to feel, and to see a thing in order for it really to have meaning. Otherwise, it's just an abstraction, which is why everything that is abstract winds up getting some physical symbol."

Tenuto has seen the quote used as a rallying cry in the collector community. It has appeared on art, toy and collector blogs and has been translated into other languages over social media.

"I'm amazed that the 'Toys' show has had a worldwide attraction," he said. "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."

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That "Star Wars" would be featured in the documentary series on important toys should come as no surprise.

"The 'Star Wars' films to date have roughly made around $7 billion at the box office; the toys have made twice that amount," he noted in the documentary. His collection of "Star Wars" toys includes the original line of action figures put out by Kenner Products in 1978, one year after the first film hit theaters. The Tenutos have kept up with "Star Wars" through the decades and already have toys from the next "Star Wars" movie that comes out next month.

"The best thing about being on Netflix is being able to share sociology with so many people all over the world," John Tenuto said. "It's been a really great ride."

And the ride isn't over. The second half of the eight-episode first season of "The Toys That Made Us" will be released on Netflix next month, and the Lake County couple's collection will be featured again, this time for an episode all about "Star Trek" toys.

While some feel the need to pick one of the two space dramas as their one and only, the Tenutos have never felt that compulsion. Over the years they have amassed a collection of "Star Trek" tchotchkes even larger than their "Star Wars" haul.

No oddity is too strange to be included in their "Star Trek" collection, which is mostly in one basement room. It has, however, spread around their home, including Kirk and Spock cookie jars on their fridge, pictures of female "Star Trek" crew members on Maria's mirror, and the wallpaper in their bedroom that makes it look like they are sleeping on the bridge of the Enterprise.

The "Star Trek" episode of "The Toys That Made Us" will be released on Netflix May 25.

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