Tarde's contribution to crowd psychology involved a theory of communication in mass culture. Crowds, he declared, cannot do without a master. Effective leaders create the mass in their own image; they have authentic and strong convictions; they are intransigent and monomaniacal; and they are motivated by a desire to achieve prestige, the will to be famous. Because they are mentally impoverished and physically enfeebled, the crowd looks to the leader as a savior. In describing the dynamics of initation between leader and followers, Tarde was actually sketching out a theory of narcissism, in which the leader is idealized. The crowd's admiration for the leader is actually only a split-off way of admiring itself, for they attribute their most precious and highly valued characteristics, ambitions, and ideals to the leader, including a view of their pure or grandiose self. Mass society accelerates the development of the individual's need to love, obey, imitate, and admire a superior being. This makes collectivities receptive to suggestion. Tarde astutely understood that submission is first learned and experienced in early family life, where the father and parents serve as prefigurations of the leader.
Tarde also depicted the ways in which mass communication serves to discipline the masses. The reader of a newspaper, he observed, becomes an excited or obedient automaton. Mass communication rarely attempts to educate or inform, but rather constitutes a subtle form of mental domination. For tarde, this form of manipulation resembled drug dependency. Modern man is not only prey to passing fashions, but he is easily fascinated by the large-scale, intensified, emotional effects of sophisticated techniques of communication.Today's media, whether the press, television, video, or radio, dangerously threaten to incite and pacify the population, making serious contestation and political opposition extremely difficult. By inference, those who control the means of communication can exercise a hegemonic influence over how contemporary man thinks, feels, and acts. Tarde wrote that industrial man was social in his readiness to suggestion, conformity, and somnambulistic states; modern crowds live as if suspended in a waking dream.